Monday, November 2, 2009

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)


After suffering a severe stroke, Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) finds himself suffering from a rare disorder known as Locked-In syndrome. With only the ability to move and blink his left eye he is able to communicate with his speech advisor, Henriette (Marie-Josee Croze), by having her state each letter of the alphabet, and him blinking on the appropriate letter. This long and tenuous task comes to head when he opts to write a book about his experiences in this paralysis like state, via his medium Claude (Anne Consigny).

At the behest of Mad Hatter I decided to go and watch a film I had all but overlooked the year it was released. The movie tells the real life story of Jean-Dominique (within narrative reason at least) as he struggles mentally to overcome his physical ailment, and the personal issues he deals with. The movie is told in basically two forms. We start off seeing everything almost entirely through the single eye perspective of Bauby, then as he grows and the film evolves we begin to see things from the outside perspective. All the while though we never leave the isolated existance of Bauby. This single character concentration brings us into the mind of Bauby as we hear his inner narrative, and the ups and downs of living a life out of your own control.

In this regard Almaric, Emmanuelle Seigner (as the mother of his children, Charlie), Croze, Consigny, and Max von Sydow (as his crippled elderly father), have to bring all their acting talents together in order to pull this off. It's incredibly easy to take a life as mundane and unexciting as Bauby's current and make it boring and impossible to watch. Using a bit of style Schnabel escapes this quite easily, utilizing the talent of his actors whenever possible. It doesn't hurt that the mind of Bauby is quite powerful, wonderfully creating a book from which the movie is built upon. The movie manages to not feel like an interpretation, but rather an extension of the written word by Bauby, who has to write this book one blink at a time, one letter at a time.

Schnabel always utilizes flashbacks as a way of letting us in on the complex character of Bauby. He isn't the most likable guy, not the definition of a hero, but he is strong willed, a bit of a playboy, and as such we find something redeemable in his personal struggles. With the inner narrative we see his strong will, determination, and growth as a person throughout the film, as he manages to find joy in the simplest of acts. His will and the strength of patience of those around him to deal with this shockingly slow communication process is eye opening (pun not intended) to those who take great advantage of the simple forms of communication we have as people. Yet the ability to show so much to those around him with nothing but one eye, it'll really grip at your inner emotions, and in that regard Diving Bell is an exceptionally effective film.

An amazing film based on an amazing story, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is without a doubt one of the cinematic gems of 2007.

4 better thoughts:

Lemmy Caution said...

Damn good film. Not to mention Tom Waits on the soundtrack during a very nice emotional scene.

Rae Kasey said...

This is in my top ten of this decade. A miraculous, beautiful movie.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Hate to give anything [or too much] away, but this is significantly high up on on my 2007 films which I'm reviewing right now. Kinda wished they'd given Von Sydow a pity nod a la Hal Holbrook

The Mad Hatter said...

See - when I recommend a movie, I don't steer ya wrong. Glad ya dug it...I might not have been able to keep reading your blog if ya didn't.

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