Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this harrowing tale, let me break it down for you: a powerful, narcissistic magazine editor named Jean-Dominique Bauby (aka Jean-Do) has a stroke and is paralyzed from head to toe. His mind, however, functions fine, and must continue to live his life as if he were a man trapped in an immobile body. The only part he can move is his one eye - he can blink. Such is the condition called locked-in syndrome. Jean-Do writes his autobiography by working with a speech therapist and blinking while she lists off the letters of alphabet and stops at the one he wishes to use.

Photo courtesy of Entertainment Wallpaper 

 The film is spectacular. I love the opening scenes and how the film is shown through Jean-Do's myopic perspective. I also love the scene where they sew up Jean-Do's bad eye while he silently protests to himself but instead of the screen going black, it goes a peachy orange, because such is what happens when you close your eyelids and it is still spectacularly bright outside (I know this because I often go to bed when the sun is out). I just love the overall tone of this film. It has such a delicate realism to it (lots of long shots and scenes without dialogue) and I love the fuzzy cinematography but it's also punctuated by surreal moments of clarity.

 Photo courtesy of The Revolving Door

I watched this with boyfriend (first for him, second for me) and towards the end, he said, "this movie makes me sad." I don't think I can say it any more succinctly than that. The film is about a man who feels like he's stuck in a diving bell, lost under water, incapable of escape, and the beautiful, free butterfly that is his imagination, which allows him to do whatever he wants and makes him feel more alive than when he was as a moving, talking body.

I also read the book for a paper in my last year in undergrad and the autobiography is just as poignant as the film. But it isn't so much an autobiographical narrative as it is a touching compendium of all of Jean-Do's insightful and ironic observations about the ephemeral past and the even more ephemeral moments of life.

I also didn't know (or didn't fully realize) that it was directed by Julian Schnabel, an artist that I'm a big fan of.


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