Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Hey champs, fiends, and inbetweenies, I’m done with discussing the cowardice of anonymous commenting and I’m back to reviewing movies from my 4 Week Subtitle Sensation.

First off, my review of I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK is up on (Cool)Shite. Go check out the review and then watch the film because it is awesome :)

diving_bell_and_the_butterfly Secondly, here’s my review of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I’ve posted it on here because this review is going to go into a little detail on some personal experiences of mine, so I decided it should probably stay on my personal movie blog. I guess I should warn you that if you’re looking for a clinical, intellectual or unemotional review, you’re reading the wrong blog but I will break it up.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly tells the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, French a journalist who was the editor of Elle magazine until he suffered a massive stroke. The stroke leaves him with a condition known as locked-in syndrome, where he is completely self-aware but paralysed and unable to speak. Through the patience and encouragement of a brilliant speech therapist, Bauby learns to communicate by blinking his one functioning eye as she reads reads a list of letters to spell out his messages. As a well respected journalist, Bauby had already signed a contract with a publishing firm for a book deal. In a pretty incredible act of faith the firm agrees to send a secretary to take dictation, allowing Bauby to write his book.

Intellectual Side

divingbell-03The direction of this film is superb. At the beginning of the film we are restricted to seeing what is happening through Bauby’s eyes. We hear what he is thinking in response to the people speaking to him, but the camera only moves with Bauby’s good eye and we experience his frustration at being unable to communicate or move. It’s not until Bauby himself begins to look beyond his loss and see his future that we as an audience are allowed to do the same.

From then we see the writing of the book juxtaposed with Bauby’s memories, his recollections and regrets. We see him find similarities in others who find themselves “locked-in” to their situation, and we see him attempt to reconnect to his family. The movie flows perfectly from the writing to the story being written about and back again. It never feels heavy-handed nor sappy, but if you don’t find yourself moved then I would seriously consider checking your pulse. You could be a cyborg.divingbell_butterfly

Emotional Side

divingbellbutterflyI remember when this film was release in Australia. I didn’t go and see it in the cinema and I have to say, I’m pretty glad about that. I’m also glad my friends and family didn’t go and see it. You see, about a month before the Australian release of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Dec 2007) I suffered an intracranial brain haemorrhage, otherwise known as a brain bleed. I experienced aphasia (couldn’t speak) and lost all feeling to the right side of my body. At the time of its actual release I was in a rehabilitation hospital. I heard about it because my speech therapist was going to see it.

That was 2 years ago (last November). It didn’t take long for me to start speaking again, nor did it take long for me to walk again, but the feeling of not being able to do those things is not something you forget. Consequently, watching this film was like a rollercoaster for me. About 20 minutes in, I fell to pieces, put myself back together again, fell to pieces again, and so on. And the ending completely destroyed me. The imagery of the diving bell that is used when Bauby is feeling completely isolated is just striking. Likewise when he has his awakening of sorts and starts embrace his rehabilitation (the first of my little breakdowns), the depiction of the honest, human therapists who are genuinely concerned with his wellbeing reminded me of the people who helped me.  diving-bell-and-the-butterfly

I found that the true brilliance of this film was in the small details. Things like the awkwardness of some visitors who couldn’t quite hide their grief, the well-meaning staff turning the television off, or the person who should have come to visit but couldn’t handle seeing him in his weakened state (there’s some contention about whether that actually happened, but I didn’t know that when I was blubbering into my puppy).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this film is pretty damn real and heart-wrenchingly honest.

And if you or anyone close to you has ever had a brain injury, get ready for a shit-storm.


  1. Wow. I still haven't seen this film, but it's been on my list for some time. I can't imagine going through what you went through, but a) congrats and super high five for coming out of it so strong and b) thanks for this honest and heartfelt review.

    And I'm really glad you have a puppy to blubber into.

  2. This book was very impactful to me - is that even a proper word? Regardless - it moved me. The part where he addressed the frustration of staff turning off his TV - leaving him entirely to himself - was especially memorable. I found his book to be very uplifting actually - but that imagery of the diving bell was perfect. I look forward to seeing the film someday soon.