The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (2007, French)
1 Jan 2013
Director: Julian Schnabel (112 mins)

Reviews: RottenTomatoes (93%), IMDB (8.1), Wikipedia, Amazon, Roger Ebert.

Similar movies: biopic, illness, true story.

Summary: An artistic, sentimental movie that won a bunch of awards at various film festivals. The movie is a true life story of Elle editor-in-chief Jean-Dominique Bauby who suffered a stroke at age 43. He woke up 20 days later, only to discover that he was facing a condition called the 'locked in syndrome'. Jean-Do's mind was fully functional but he could not move his body except his left eyelid. A speech therapist devised a system of communication. She would speak French letters in decreasing order of frequency. The corresponding English letters are E, T, A, O, N, S, H, R, D, L, ... Jean-Do would blink an eye when the correct letter was spoken. Through this communication technique, Jean-Do dictated a 131-page book titled The Diving Bell and The Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death (131 pages, 1998). Remarkable! Isn't it?

Jean-Do's book is a first person narrative. So is the movie. Many scenes are shot from Jean-Do's perspective, limited to his field of vision and punctuated by eye blinks. In his book, Jean-Do describes three things: his real life experiences as a quadriplegic, his memories and his imagination. After his stroke, Jean-Do's real life experiences are with people who keep in touch with him: his doctors, his hard-working therapists, his wife, his kids, his aged dad, a former lover and some colleagues. They all love him. Some pray for his well being. His memories are about his life as a high flying editor of Elle (a fashion magazine), his family and his former lovers. Jean-Do's imagination reflects his abstract thoughts about his inability to move his body but his ability to move his mind freely.

What does the title of the book 'The Diving Bell and The Butterfly' reflect? Jean-Do compares his body to a 'diving bell', a heavy metallic bell-like chamber sunk into oceans for exploration. He compares his mind to a butterfly that dances around joyfully, savoring beautiful experiences :)


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