I had a nice, big group during my undergraduate days. Somewhere is our second year, 7 of us once went to a Movie, Black(2005). It is pretty much on the lines of The Miracle Worker(1962) though characters are not connected directly to Hellen Keller. That’s not the point however. The point is, 7 of us - perfectly capable of bringing the House down, 7 of us – who probably spent more time with each other than our own Families, were together for maybe couple of hours after movie but all we could say to each other was ”What do we do now?” “Let us go somewhere to eat” The first restaurant someone suggested was agreed upon...we reached there, some of us ordered, some of us didn’t and then ”Ok..See you in college tomorrow”. That was pretty much what we said in all the time we were together. Movie like Black can have that kind of effect on you. I didn’t want to talk to anyone; I didn’t want to do anything after watching it. I just wanted to be with myself - I don’t even know what I was thinking about. There are very few movies which have this kind of effect on you. The Diving Bell and The Butterfly(2007) is one such movie.
The Diving Bell and The Butterfly(2007) is an astonishing true life-story of Jean-Dominique Bauby (On a lighter note, I love the way French pronounce Bauby, lingering a little on that last Y)- the story of wealthy and amicable Playboy and editor-in-chief of Elle, France turning into bed-ridden, paralyzed from head to toe, only capable of moving his left eye at the age of 43 due to stroke. His locked-in syndrome, locking him inside his own body, became his Prison - his Diving Bell with no means of escape from it. However, he finds his butterfly in his fantasies and memories as his mind remains unaffected. Since the only way Bauby can communicate anything is through his eye, his Speech Therapist Henrietta develops an ingenious method which allows him to talk by blinking. We see his transformation from dejected, morose person whose first thought is of death and death only to someone who authored a memoir of the same name by blinking to a code to interpret every letter of the word.
Bauby suffered his stroke in December of 1995 and he died in March 1997, just few days after French publication of his book. Film was shot in the same hospital that Bauby was kept in, it also features the same balcony he used to relax, same beach his family used to spend time with and even many assistants who actually helped Bauby. Film rides pretty high on emotions though all the actors do fine job. It takes you into the Jean-Dominique's character, you feel his depression, you feel him longing for his previous life, and you feel his determination as well to give something to the world on his way out. First 20 minutes of film are literally seen through his eyes. We see everything through his eyes; we hear all his thoughts which helps a great deal to get a gripe. And by the end, even though you know it is impossible, it also gets you to hope for a miracle.
Director Schnebel deserves a lot of credit for practically re-inventing the first-person narration in this film. By using it, we not only see Bauby's life through his own eyes but understand what he was going through, understand his metaphors of diving bell and his butterfly. Schnabel, originally painter by profession, began his film career with a biography of painter-hustler Jean Michel Basquiat Basquiat(1996) and includes Before Night Falls(2000) in his resume which captured the life of Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas and launched Javier Bardem to stardom, took great risk in doing so but it helps immensely in keeping the soul of film at right place. It is a film that belnds tragic and triumphant beautifully. While watching The Diving Bell and The Butterfly you might feel elated at the smallest of Bauby's achievements and milestones but Schnebel never lets Bauby Exult in them - he is still locked inside his body and Bauby knew it very well. At such a moment of personal tragedy, he did what artist can do best - He Created. Whatever else he was in life, this triumph of life over death made him noble and it ennobles this film as well.
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