(a highly recommended Miramax video)
There are CVAs and then there are other strokes. There are the ‘lucky’ kind that 100-year-old-and-still-goin’-strong Kirk Douglas had. There are those that kill. And then there are the rare ones called Locked-In Syndrome which tragically struck down Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby in his 40s.
This is one of those movies that puts the viewer in the place of the protagonist and director Julian Schnabel rarely strays from the point of view of Bauby whose only moving part was his left eyelid which he used to communicate (one blink=yes, two blinks= no) and an unusual alphabet menu he blinked at to pick out letters and spell words. The latter was how Bauby ‘wrote’ his famous book with the same title as the movie; a book only published ten days before he died.
Schnabel makes deft use of point of view in his camera work that helps the viewer to identify with the main character, his feelings, and frustrations. The viewer feels what it’s like not to heard through voiceovers that represent Bauby’s thoughts and responses to others.
There are many memorable scenes and episodes such as Bauby waking after his stroke, having his right eye sewn shut, visiting with his wife and kids on Father’s Day, listening to his mistress’s phone call with his wife translating in the same room, and reliving the actual stroke while out driving with his son.
Mathieu Amalric is outstanding and powerful portraying Bauby before and after the stroke; he nicely brings out the great contrasts between the latter’s dynamic life and his later utter helplessness and despair. His scenes with the father, played sensitively and sadly by Max von Sydow, is particularly touching.
The three main actresses, Emmanuel Seigner, Marie-Josee Croze, and Anne Consigny, all give wonderful, heartfelt performances as Bauby’s patient wife, his hopeful speech therapist, and his religious nurse..
The film is stunning, beautiful, and inspiring, giving insights into an extremely limiting handicap and the sorts of things healthy people take for granted when they are free and healthy themselves. I believe this bona-fide well-made classic would give anyone 15 or older a greater appreciation of good health, luck, and perspective on tragic misfortune. The Diving Bell and The Butterfly speaks volumes about mind over matter, the power of the imagination to create despite many limitations, and the ability of some individuals to transcend tragedy while remaining human.