THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (LE SCAPHANDRE ET LET PAPILLON)

3 Stars – Thoughtful

Masterfully presented by director Julian Schnabel and adapted for film by writer Ronald Harwood, this is “the true story of Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby who suffers a stroke and has to live with an almost totally paralyzed body; only his left eye isn't paralyzed.”  Experiencing the world from inside Jean-Dominique as he tediously dictates his experience by blinking to a patient stenographer, the camera shows the world through his eye, his thoughts through voice-overs, and his imagination and memories through fantasies and flashbacks.  It is a sad and moving experience as Jean-Dominique experiences life as though being lived in a diving bell.

It should be noted that some of the facts of Jean-Dominique’s life have been changed for artistic reasons, such as when the film shows the mother of his children coming to visit him when in fact it was his mistress.  However, we will comment only upon the film.

Jean-Dominique (Mathieu Amalric) awakens from a three-week coma in which he has had a cerebral event.  We experience his waking moment through his own struggling eyes.  We are inside his thoughts as he realizes he can’t speak.  We hear the doctor’s explanation as he understands that he is no longer in control of his body.  Except for his left eye, he has “locked-in syndrome” in which nothing is wrong except that the connection between the brain and body has become severed by a stroke.  In one moment of time, this vital and successful editor’s life has dramatically changed.

So much of what defines us as human beings is based on our ability to use our bodies.  But, if we can no longer do so, then who are we?  What defines us now?  What transcends when the body fails?   The discourse into such questions is a disappointment.  Limiting himself to the physical world and having no life of prayer or faith in which Jean-Dominique could connect with the transcendent world, Jean-Dominique uses his keen intellect to fantasize sensual events.  Whether it is a sexual liaison with a beautiful woman or a hiking trip on a snow-covered mountain or a feast of delectable cuisine, Jean-Dominique limits himself to this physical world.

But into his hospital room and terraces comes a collection of others, some with love, some with science, some with faith and some with the intention to record his experience – one blink at a time.  Though we won’t spoil the journey he takes with these who intersect his eye’s gaze and his mind’s thoughts, it is a thoughtful reminder of how important our relationships with others are even when our body cannot respond.

Being trapped within a “diving bell” existence where we can neither reach out or feel the touch of others is a difficult-to-imagine tragedy.  But it is nevertheless imagined in this film and we better understand ourselves and one another because of it.

 

Discussion:

  1. Why do you believe Jean-Dominique decided to not marry the mother of his three children, Celine Desmoulins (Emmanuelle Seigner)?  What effect do you believe this had on him?
  2. When Jean-Dominique remembers his unwanted journey to Lourdes, what do you think he was experiencing?  Do you think he was struggling with the belief that God may be able to heal him or something else?
  3. The care the various women provide as therapists and stenographers gives Jean-Dominique a place of connection.  Who would you want to be with you were you in his physical place?
  4. Do you believe that Jean-Dominique’s father, Papinou (Max Von Sydow) gave him good guidance and counsel in life?  Why or why not?
Posted on June 1, 2011 and filed under 3 STARS, THOUGHTFUL.