The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

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Contains spoilers.

This film is based on the real life magazine editor, Jean-Dominique Bauby (editor of Elle magazine), who suffered a stroke when he was only in his 40s and he developed ‘locked in syndrome’. This film comes across as something not dissimilar to French New Wave movies.

When the first half an hour of the film is presented from Jean Dominique’s point of view, we have such things as shaky camera to fully let the audience experience Jean’s feelings when he is laid up in hospital unable to communicate. However, the audience are unsettled by almost the breaking of the fourth wall. Because we can hear his thoughts, but the doctors and specialists are unable to. We are dumped right in the middle of the scene, and the doctors’ voices are more muffled than Jean’s.

You could say that this film is non-linear. It also doesn’t really make sense, but it is made up of vignettes of memory and present existence – the only thing that Jean had left when his stroke took away his other cognitive abilities. And that is why the film really works – it doesn’t make sense. Despite the serious topic, there are several humorous scenes such as a scene when he is having speech therapy and he ponders the sexual attractiveness of his speech therapists. Film equipment such as tripods seem to have been completely abandoned in the making of this film. We see the scene from his point of view, which means that the film is often poorly framed. This is not important, rather it draws us further in and puts us in Jean’s place.

Suffering from locked-in syndrome makes him ponder the relationship he has with his children and his own father. There are also many times when the representation of a diving suit is used. Its dragging him to the bottom, whereas the butterflies represent his spirit which is free and despite his impairment.

He manages to write his memoirs with the help of a transcriptionist, but he communicates only by the movement of his right eye. His book is published to universal critical acclaim, but he dies of pneumonia soon after. A beautiful French film that has a lot of heart. I could write a dissertation about this film, but what I would recommend is that you watch it yourself because it is difficult to encapsulate what a beautiful film this really is.

MY RATING: 4.5 / 5.

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