26 November 2009

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is based on the memoir of the same name by Jean-Dominique Bauby. Formerly the editor of Elle, Bauby suffered a stroke that left him with locked-in syndrome, a condition in which he remained conscious but unable to speak or move anything but his left eye. He dictated his book by blinking. (His speech therapist would read the letters of the alphabet in decreasing order of frequency, and he would blink at the letter he wanted to use.)

The title is a reference to Bauby's corporeal imprisonment and to how he escapes from it with his vivid imagination. Director Julian Schnabel does a good job portraying the terror and frustration of Bauby's impotence (some riveting camerawork here, if you can believe that) as well as his fanciful daydreams.

Diving Bell is a moving story of mind over matter and the power of the human spirit. Bauby's condition arouses pity, yet the focus is not on that but on his humanity. We get a view into his wishes, vices, regrets, dreams, and memories. I appreciated the fact that Schnabel doesn't lionize Bauby or overdo the sentimentality. Bauby is a courageous but flawed man, and it is only his warts that make him recognizable as a real person to those of us who have been more fortunate.


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