The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

ca161-divingbellbutterflympIt’s beyond me how a film about a man who is all but paralyzed, except for his left eye, could be interesting. The main plot point follows his struggle to write a memoir using a tedious system where he blinks his eye for an assistant to transcribe. Maybe this does not sound all that engaging, but it most definitely is. No question. It has to do with how the film narrative is developed.

Bauby’s struggle is experienced first hand by the audience as we are stuck inside his head for the first portion of the film. It is a disconcerting perspective as we begin the film as helpless and confused as he is. We are there for every painfully difficult piece of progress, every one-sided conversation that Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) is unable to respond to, and every moment when he is powerless to act out. It is absolutely eye-opening. No pun intended. It’s simply the truth.

His progression is absolutely extraordinary. Beginning as a supposed “vegetable” who wished to die, to a man with an imagination that he was able to share with the world. He still had the ability and the passion for sharing his thoughts, memories, and desires with the world. He was physically so powerless and yet mentally so empowered.

Fragments of his story are given to us in pieces, although we still continue to return to the limited perspective he himself experiences. It is not easy to be sure. He must have others bathe him. The television channel is out of his control. There are doctors, therapists, friends, and family coming to see them, and he has no ability to physically interact. He still has feelings for his mistress, but the mother of his children still cares deeply for him. Sundays are hell with no one around.

Despite all that seems to drag him down, Bauby still is able to flutter above it all like a butterfly. With the help of his assistant and a strong will, he completed his memoir. 10 days later he would die, but his mission was accomplished. Maybe it seems like a rather unfortunate ending, but even if the lack of closure is unsatisfying, how it ended is the truth. Bauby was undoubtedly content because, despite the seemingly surmountable obstacles, he never lost his humanity. Being Locked-in could never take his mind from him. Ultimately, he was a winner and so his story ends on a somber yet powerful note.

It has been a while since I have been so affected by a film. I hope I will see another one like it very, very soon.

4.5/5 Stars

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