'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly'
(Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, et al / DVD / PG-13 / (2007) 2008 / Miramax)
Overview: From Miramax Films acclaimed director Julian Schnabel and the screenwriter of THE PIANIST comes a remarkable and inspiring true story about the awesome power of imagination. Experience the triumphant tale of renowned editor Jean-Dominique Bauby a man whose love of life and soaring vision shaped his will to achieve a life without boundaries.
DVD Verdict: After reading the former French Elle Magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby's memoir, 'The Diving Bell and The Butterfly' when it was first published in 1997, I couldn't help wondering if it would be possible for anyone to make a decent movie out of it. After watching the film directed by Julian Schnabel, with a screenplay by Ronald Howard, I was awestruck to acknowledge that not only had they made a decent film, but a gorgeous and phenomenal one.
It makes sense that 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' should shine on the big screen like the huge glowing miracle that it is because the fact that Bauby even "wrote" his book at all was itself nothing less than a king-sized miracle. A major stroke in his brain stem left him paralyzed with locked-in syndrome, a condition in which he was fully conscious but unable to move any part of his body except his left eye.
Whereas the shock of finding oneself in such a torturous state might have caused many to shut down completely, Bauby rose to the occasion within himself by the sheer power of will, spirit, and the loving compassion of others. His body, he noted, may have become like a heavy diving suit that weighed him down, but his mind became freedom personified, like a butterfly that floats at will through realms of intellect, memory, and imagination. Harnessing the resources at hand, he learned to dictate by indicating individual letters with the blink of an eye and managed to compose a small masterpiece.
Actor and director Mathieu Amalric plays Bauby with deeply attractive humanity. Viewers first meet him from inside his head, so to speak, as he begins to regain consciousness and doctors gather to explain what has happened. Once the unsettling fact of his paralysis is painfully established, we move with the stream of Bauby's consciousness back and forth through scenes of high-energy photo shoots at Elle Magazine, memories of shaving his father, the complications of a love affair, and fantasies of intimate encounters with his lovely female therapists.
A particularly powerful element within this movie is the portrayal of Bauby's existential stubbornness. Ironically enough, prior to his stroke, he becomes angry with his lover when she insists they visit Lourdes, a place where divine healings reportedly often takes place. Still later, when in a wheelchair, a priest offers him communion and he signals to his therapist with a blink of his eye that he does not want it. Comically, his therapist ignores this and tells the priest he does. It is this determination to guard his sense of individual humanity that makes Bauby beautifully heroic, even though he would not describe himself as such.
Actress Emmanuelle Seigner plays Bauby's estranged wife Celine with subtle intensity and one marvels at the quiet dignity she brings to the part. Equally engaging in their supporting roles are Max von Sydow as Bauby's father; Marie-Josée Croze as the therapist who teaches him to communicate with blinks of a single eye; and Isaach De Bankole as his visiting friend Laurent.
Both as a book and as a film, 'The Diving Bell and The Butterfly' is largely about the perspectives that we choose to apply to our lives. Though he suffered one of the worse fates imaginable, Bauby chose to believe his life was still a meaningful one and worked to produce a celebrated book that was published just 10 days before he died. Julian Schnabel's film is a work of cinematic poetry that honors both the man and the work through the very means that Bauby employed to live his final days: penetrating intelligence, inspired compassion, and luminous imagination. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
'Submerged: The Making of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' (12 mins.)
'A Cinematic Vision' (7 mins.)
Audio Commentary by director Julian Schnabel.