The Greatest films of all time: 93.The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (France)(2007)


Based on the memoir of Jean-Dominique Bauby (played by Mathiu Amalric), the editor of the French fashion magazine, Elle, who was paralyzed by a rare massive brain stem stroke, called “Locked-in Syndrome”, the film is a non-conventional biopic. The memoir itself published in 1997 received universal acclaim and in the first day of publication sold 25,000 copies and in a week 150,000 and soon became the number one best seller across Europe. Locked in his own body with a totally intact brain, still capable of thinking, imagining, loving, remembering and still communicating by the blink of eyes, both the memoir by Bauby himself and the film adaptation by Julian Schnable is a human heroism to record such an emotional subjective experience that otherwise could not have been appreciated.

A Locked-in Journey needed to be told:

Taking laborious hours of work between Bauby and a female transcriber, from the publishing company, building the words letter by letter with the blink of his left eye (as his right eye due to dryness had to be stitched) to write his emotions, memories and regrets of a successful and happy life is an extraordinary rarity. The writing of the book took on average about 2 minutes for each word, and about 200,000 blinks in 10 months of working 4 hours a day, but the man dies from pneumonia two days after the successful publication of his book on March 9, 1997. The depiction of such heroic memoir to pass on to the millions of viewers across the globe to appreciate the life that often is taken for granted is another heroism specially when done masterfully on film.

The most part of the film is shown through the eyes and mind of Bauby as if the camera has been placed in his eyes and brain. The film opens in a hospital at Breck-sur-Mer by the sea when Bauby wakes up three weeks after being in coma from his massive stroke. The surrounding is seen blurry from the patient’s view, but gradually clears up with a better vision. The nurses and the doctor are all excited that Bauby has finally come to life, but he is still totally paralyzed and mute, while can see, hear and think. Slowly Bauby realizes that he is trapped in his own physical body, a rare stroke of the brain stem that the doctors called it “Locked-in-syndrome”. We hear Bauby’s thinking and feelings loud, but no one in the hospital can hear him as he is aphasic and cannot speak.

Soon Bauby is helped by a beautiful speech therapist, Henriette (Anne Consigny) who when she comes in the first time with another beautiful physiotherapist, Bauby thinks he has died and is in heaven. Henriette gradually helps Bauby (she calls him Jean-Do as his friends used to call him) to identify the alphabetical letters by blinking eye to make out words for communication with the outside world. Henriette from the start takes an interest in her patient beyond her job and spends more time with Bauby, hoping his recovery and soon to speak. She even gets upset at him when he is hopeless about his progress. While a laborious process, Bauby accepts and cooperates with the therapy and blinking as the only way of reaching out to his surrounding and others, including Celine (Emmanuelle Seigner), his ex-common law and the mother of his three children who often comes visiting him.

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The Greatest films of all time: 93.The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (France)(2007)