The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

This film is based on a true story about the editor of Elle magazine, Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffers a stroke, and becomes almost completely paralyzed. The only movement he can make is with one of his eyes. As the movie progresses, he learns to communicate by blinking.

This is a stunning film that spends much of its time viewing the world from Jean’s point of view. The slow pacing draws us into this character’s limitations, and awakens us to new ways of seeing and new ways of understanding the world around us. In the weeks following his stroke, Jean’s imagination is awakened in new ways, and his resilient efforts to make as much of his life as he can are an inspiration.

But this is no Hallmark film – The camera’s lens is not afraid to show us the messiness of a paralysed body as Jean is bathed, his bad eye is sewn shut, and his sagging mouth constantly drools. And beyond this, the complex web of his pre-stroke relationships continues, unresolved. At first, he forbids his children to visit. And we wait for the inevitable confrontation between the mother of his children, and his mistress, a scene that, when it arrives, is heart-wrenching and masterfully done.

Jean skirts the edges of religious faith, responding to the therapist who takes him to church with relative indifference. He rejects the miracle-working interventions that one priest urges upon him, but it is unclear how important his religious experience is to him or what he thinks about it.

The film avoids direct statements about world view in favor of looking as closely as it can into the depths of one man’s experience. It is full of sensory information – blurred images passing by, muffled sounds, and Jean’s one eye blinking, communicating one letter at a time in order to share with others his poetic musings and clipped responses.

This film offers an unflinching perspective one man’s life, and it does so with enough grace and subtlety to give us a renewed gratitude for the often overlooked little graces of our own lives.


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