I am a Media Arts minor, and I am taking a class on “the practice of looking”. We meditate, discuss our emotions, and watch deeply abstract films. This week, we watched a movie called The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. At the beginning of the semester, she assigned the book for it, but I thought we weren’t going to read it. I didn’t know there was a movie for it either.
The true story is of a 43 year-old magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby who suffers a stroke and is found to have locked-in syndrome, where he is paralyzed from the neck down. He can see and hear but cannot speak, communicating only by blinking his left eye for yes or no. Literally trapped inside his body, he faces a terrifying situation despite the support he has from an an expert medical team and his family. It’s only when his speech therapist Henriette devises a system for him to “speak” one letter at a time by blinking his eye does the world open up for him.
The film is based an Bauby’s book, which he dictated, one letter at a time. That’s right. Jean-Do wrote an entire book by blinking to a woman to recites each letter of the alphabet. He would blink when she reached a letter he wanted, and blink twice for a space.
First, this movie’s cinematography is phenomenal. A majority of the film is seen through Jean-Do’s eyes, which is blurry and scattered. Even as we see through his eyes, we hear his thoughts as if we are Jean-Do. The attempt at making it through his perspective was done to perfection as we get to put ourselves in the devastating scenario that he is in.
The acting is also superb. This film is challenging, with intense, emotional moments. The actors are able to achieve the level of emotion, making it feel even more. Even the actor who plays Jean-Do is amazing, portraying this syndrome perfectly.
My favorite part of this film is how they don’t necessarily make Jean-Do look like a strong, hero. He is not a perfect man; he was into himself, and had self-pity moments for himself as he wished for death. I truly enjoy the real aspect of that.
When it ended, I was in awe. I felt so many emotions from it all. Director Julian Schnabel and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski fundamentally form the template to create one of the greatest portrayals of the mind’s eye ever put to film. A discomforting but inspiring struggle for a person. This film is a work of art, and I have begun the book.
This movie is a reenactment of this man’s life. Not necessarily a documentary, but a cinematic masterpiece that I had to share.