Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Today I saw The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, starring Mathieu Amalric and Marie Josée Croze.

It's a tale told mostly through the eyes of the subject, Jean-Dominique Bauby (Amalric), the real-life former editor of Elle magazine in France. On the way to the theater with his son one day, he has a massive stroke that leaves him paralyzed save for his left eye. This "locked-in" syndrome is so rare the physicians at first seem as if they don't know what to do with him. But, with the help of speech and physical therapists, Bauby learns to communicate by blinking.

Marie Josée Croze plays therapist Henriette, who develops a revised alphabet arranged in order of use frequency to make conversation with the patient easier. This results in Bauby requesting that his publisher honor his existing contract to write a book and the company sending a representative to take his dictation. What transpires is The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the book in which this film is based upon.

This memoir detailed the feelings of a formerly vibrant man who has been reduced to nothing more than a hostage in his own body. Thankfully (or perhaps tragically) he retains his wit, sadness, sexual desires and memory, which he examines throughout.

The film shows us crushes on his therapists, discontent with his ex-partner (he purposely never married the mother of this children), longing for his mistress and love for his father.

It spotlights an imperfect man in impossible circumstances with a necessity to express himself creatively by any means available.

It forces us to see how lazy we are by not accomplishing all we hope to in the here and now, and reminds us to treasure the time and people we have in our lives.

There is one scene where a well-placed U2 song illustrates the type of man Bauby once was and how he chose to live his life before the stroke. This scene in particular hit me hard because the normalcy of his world was so previously carefree. You got the sense that his status and charisma afforded him more leeway than regular men would be granted by their women, children, etc.

But he overcame the depression of his situation long enough to write the novel describing it and lived barely long enough to see it published.

We should all be so productive.

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