One of the best movies of the year.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is one of those movies that I put off watching because it looked so depressing. I mean c'mon, a guy who's trapped inside his own body, only able to move his left eye, communicates to the rest of the world through blinking, including writing a full-length book? And based on a true story, so you know that someone actually went through this? Not exactly the feel good movie of the holidays. But okay, so I finally caved into the buzz it's generating and saw it. Turns out, it's buzz well earned and while it is sad in parts, it's not depressing at all.
As the movie starts, we see events through the eyes of Jean-Dominique Bauby. He's just awakened from a coma and is unaware of where he is or what has happened. He learns with us, that, although a relatively young man, he has suffered a stroke that has left him completely paralyzed. The only thing he can movie is his eyes, and one of them is infected, soon to be lost. Bauby, aided no doubt, by his money an fame as the editor of Elle magazine, is given the best treatment possible at the hospital at which he is staying. While at first his thoughts are suicidal, thanks to his friends, the hospital staff, his children and most of all, the women in his life, Bauby finds the will to carry on with life. He also, with the help of the method devised by his speech therapist, decides to write a book about his experiences. He is able to "write" the book by having his assistant recite the alphabet and he will blink once when she gets to the right letter. In this painstaking manner, they are able to create with painstaking slowness, his novel.
This story could so easily have been nothing more than a "disease of the week" made-for-TV movie, filled with melodrama. It could also have been quite boring. I mean, watching a guy blink out a book doesn't sound like the most riveting idea for a movie. However, this movie has been filmed in such a way that boring is the last thing it ever is. And it steers far clear of mere melodrama.
Most of the movie is shown from Bauby's point of view. Either quite literally; through his eyes, or inside his head and into his imagination and memory (and quite often the two become mixed up). The most frequent image in his mind is that of himself suspended underwater, inside an old fashioned diving suit. Later, near the end of the movie, he likens his reawakening will to live as a butterfly coming out of its cocoon. Hence the title. The imagery and the stream of conciousness nature of it makes for the best part of the movie and some of the best filmed scenes of any movie this year. There are also some very touching scenes between Bauby and his father, played by an aging, but still very effective, Max Von Sydow.
Of all the movies generating award buzz this season, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was the most surprising to me and perhaps the most special. Boredom or depression are the last two things you will have to worry about if you see this movie.
Photos © Copyright Miramax Films (2007)