The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

I was dubious about this film to start with.  It’s the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the former Fashion Editor of the French Elle Magazine.  He suffered a spontaneous stroke rendering him almost entirely paralysed, apart from his right eyelid and his imagination, known as ‘Locked-In Syndrome’.  Bauby spent the next 6 months dictating his book to a ‘translator’ when she said the right letter.

The reason I was dubious is because a lot of it is shot from a first person perspective, which could be a very time-consuming procession - the camera’s view is Bauby’s eye’s view, so when he blinks twice for no, the screen goes dark, when Bauby cries, the screen blurs, and when he suffers from further strokes, the screen flickers, speeds up, slows down, washes out, and fades to almost completely grey, its really quite alarming to watch.  The worst part of this for me was when we saw Bauby’s left eye being sewn up, from his own perspective.

The complicated, yet brilliant cinematography, coupled with the whole film being in French with subtitles could have made it a chore to follow to the end, but the strong emotive vibe of the storyline pulls the watcher in and keeps them hooked for the whole hour and 40 minutes.

Now I have a thing about emotional father son scenes (the part in ‘Run Fatboy, Run’ where he was running the last yards of the marathon towards his son had me bawling in the cinema), so it could just be me, but Bauby’s flashback scene where he shaved his nonagenarian, disabled father with such love and care, followed by the father’s later phone call to Bauby, to tell him he was dying (but Bauby couldn’t respond because he’d already had the stroke) had me, Bauby and Bauby’s father sobbing uncontrollably.

As well as seeing from Bauby’s perspective, we can hear his internal monologue; laughing at jokes at his expense, crying at not being able to hug his children on Father’s Day, scorning the speech therapists who try and improve his motor skills, and falling in love with his translator (who is convenientlya beautiful young woman).  This unique insight into the mind of someone ‘locked’ in their own body irretrievably - the sorrow, the self-pity, and the drive to continue surviving and living - gives the film an incredibly intimate and personal feel, well worth it’s awards at Cannes, the Golden Globes, and BAFTA.

By now, I probably should’ve explained the title.  The film is interspersed with scenes of a mobile Bauby trapped in a ‘Diving Bell’ (the antique cast-iron diving suit which didn’t allow any movement) - this is his metaphor for his condition, and the following footage of a butterfly is his metaphor for his memories and imagination.  The only thing to keep him living.

I love this film.  I watched it from a library copy, but next time I’m anywhere near a shop I’m buying it, I don’t care how much debt I’m in.  Alternatively, its my birthday soon, if anyone fancies buying it for me… well, I’ll leave that hanging :)

I recommend this film to everyone who appreciates emotive films, and doesn’t mind reading subtitles, and if you don’t cry then you’re as bad as the Last Human.