I decided to stop pitying myself. Other than my eye, two things aren’t paralyzed, my imagination and my memory.
— Jean-Dominique Bauby
I have wanted to watch Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly for years, but I have not had the chance to watch until I saw it at the local library. The #220 Movie of All-Time on IMDb was nominated for four Oscars including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. I was so happy that I watched this film.
Based on the book of the same name, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly recounts the harrowing story of French Elle editor, Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) who was living the life when he is suddenly struck by a massive stroke. He wakes up after a three-week coma in a hospital in Bereck-sur-Mer. The audience could hear Jean-Do talking, but he does not realize that he cannot speak or move anything on his body, except his left eye.
Most of the movie is shown at Jean-Do’s perspective. Very first person. The audience could connect with the lead character this way and gets a taste of his new state of being. His personal doctor Lepage (Patrick Chesnais) discusses with him that he had a cerebrovascular episode that rendered him a vegetable except for blinking in his left eye, otherwise called “Locked-In Syndrome.”
The staff starts the rehabilitation program to help him regain some range of motion. You notice more and more that Jean-Do is always internally flirting with his female speech therapist, Henriette Roi (Marie-Josée Croze). He communicates with blinking once for “yes” and two for “no”, which progresses to Henriette teaching the alphabet in order of frequently used.
Jean-Do does not want to live with Locked-in Syndrome. He wants to die. He has momentary glimpses of his former life being the toast of the town, having a family with his companion, Céline (Emmanuelle Seigner) and being in love with his mistress, Inès (Agathe de La Fontaine). He recounts his many regrets and missed opportunities in his life. Jean-Do wants to tell his story. He decided to dictate his memoirs through Claude (Anne Consigny) one letter at a time.
I cannot imagine anybody except for an artist like Schnabel to make this movie happen. He paints a picture of sorrow, heartbreak, regret, but ultimately it is hopeful. No matters what life throws at you, you can overcome all obstacles. This speaks to the determination of Jean-Do, who did not want to exist, he wanted to leave his mark on life.
The cinematography transfixes the audience to the mindset of Jean-Do, to experience what he is experiencing. It was a great piece of cinema to gaze upon. You would think that hearing the alphabet being repeated a million times would annoy the hell out of you, but it didn’t.
Judgment: This is a perfect example of art imitating life.