THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY—- a diving bell plunges you into confined silence where every moment can be a unique challenge to your very breath. A butterfly breaks free from confinement and offers its beauty in quiet grace. This beautifully wrought story takes us, as well as any artistic interpretation likely could, inside one of our deepest fears as humans—the utter helplessness of physical paralysis. Unable to move or speak, basic freedom stolen, left by indifferent fate with only the ability to feel and think, even that clinging misery compounded by the bottomless agony of those we love.
Mathieu Amalric plays Jean-Dominque Bauby, whose successful life as editor of the French fashion magazine “Elle” crashed into an earthbound alien existence when he had a stroke & coma that rendered him victim to the extremely rare “Locked-in-Syndrome”, physically incapacitated but mentally alert. More hellish, one eye had to be sewn shut, so all communication had to be via blinking with the good eye.
Astonishingly, Bauby, with titanic will and the tireless help of devoted therapists, ‘dictated’ a memoir, via some 200,000 blinks. It became a bestseller, ultimately reaching millions.
Director Julian Schnabel, working off Ronald Harwood’s superb script, with a brilliant assist from cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, works 112 minutes of artistry into this 2007 diamond, successful with audiences ($19,800,000) and critics—making many Ten-Best lists, although it was shut out of Oscar competition as a Foreign Film because it was produced by Americans: otherwise it would likely have scooped that years statue.
Amalic’s performance is flat wonderful, and there is luminous assist from Marie-Josee Croze (just marry me, already!), Anne Consigny (you too!), Emmanuelle Seigner, Olatz Lopez Garmendia, Patrick Chesnais, Niels Arustrup and a lovely turn from the great Max Von Sydow.
Unsettling, humbling, mordantly funny, rich in every respect. Among some fierce competition in similar direst-straits territory—My Left Foot, Whose Life Is It Anyway, The Sessions, The Miracle Worker—this bids fair to claim summit.