Monday, February 18, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Review

Turns out that the artsy little Cable Car Cafe was showing The Diving Bell and the Butterfly all this time (they don't show up on the major movie theater sites). Saw it last night, and here are some general thoughts.

First of all, everyone in this field should both read the book and see this movie. The book is a more somber, introspective experience, forcing you to take some real time to consider the situation of the author (locked-in due to brainstem stroke, communicating with a single eye blink). The movie makes a bigger deal of the author's relationships with women (his children's mother, his lover, the speech therapist, anything with mammary glands), but it somehow brought it all together. I guess watching two hours of deadpan, introspective dialog just doesn't make for enjoyable viewing.

The majority of the movie is shown from the perspective of the patient (Jean-Dominique Bauby, former editor of Elle Magazine), and was truly a remarkable experience. Later, the camera does leave his body to focus on him, but the way the director goes about it is extremely artistic and at the same time respectful. Rather than hit you with the image of Mr. Bauby in his immobilized and distorted state, he makes you relate to his condition without considering the visible impact - the distorted lips, the bloodshot eye, the trach tube, etc.

I don't want to give away too much, or describe it in too much detail because some of the stark transitions and imagery is meant to be experienced as part of the progression of the film, but it was remarkable on every level. Artistically, it felt like every shot was intentional, telling its own story. The actors and actresses were just amazing. The pace was good, and the organization well thought out. I simply could not have been happier.

On the 'mechanical' side, it looked to me like everything was well represented as far as the medical issues (though I assume they removed much of the lung suctioning because it can be a little disconcerting to people not used to it).

Mathieu Amalric does an incredible job of depicting a locked-in patient. There is one emotional scene that really hit me hard. If you saw it you probably know which one it was, but Bauby's emotional response to a situation, only being able to move that one eye, was downright haunting. I've seen that look of helplessness and panic, and it brought up memories I try not to think about. Amalric's portrayal is spot-on exactly accurate, perfect, wow, can't even say how surprised I was.

Thankfully, the movie is not all about helplessness. It is in some ways uplifting, with some great scenes to match, and part documentary. You'll leave the theater quietly thinking about the whole experience, but not in the "that was so sad, I don't want to speak" sort of way. You can't help but reflect on each scene and each transition. Each moment is its own story or point to meditate on. While I wouldn't say the movie is uplifting, it wasn't depressing either, which I think was the director's attempt to catch the spirit of the book. It has been almost 10 years since I read it (now I plan on rereading it), but I remember a similar feeling. It's the Existential feeling of - this is what it is to be human, the good and the bad. One doesn't exist without the other, and you can't choose to ignore or dwell on just one aspect of your humanity forever.

People say that it isn't what you say that makes a person, it's what you do. But, then what if you can say or do nothing? That is what this movie is about.

IMdB link
Official Site
Amazon book link
Netflix queue link
Fandango theater search (be sure to check your local artsy locations, too. This is a 'foreign flick', so expect it in smaller venues.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", but the movie I'd rather see is "My Stroke of Insight", which is the amazing bestselling book by Dr Jill Bolte Taylor. It is an incredible story and there's a happy ending. She was a 37 year old Harvard brain scientist who had a stroke in the left half of her brain. The story is about how she fully recovered, what she learned and experienced, and it teaches a lot about how to live a better life. Her TEDTalk at TED dot com is fantastic too. It's been spread online millions of times and you'll see why!

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