Friday, 2 August 2013

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) - ★★★★★

Director: Julian Schnabel
Writers: Ronald Harwood (Screenplay), Jean-Dominique Bauby (Book)
Stars: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josee Croze, Anna Consigny, Max Von Sydow, Niels Arestrup

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is one of the most sensational movies of all time. This is a film that has the power to change a person's life. Ikiru (To Live) by Akira Kurosawa is the only other film that has had such an effect on me, where it's actually made me re-evaluate what I'm doing with my life. It's one of the most touching stories I've ever seen, and in my opinion it could not have been made better. It delved deep into my heart and took me an a powerful emotional journey, which had many laughs and many tears. Not only is this one of my favorite movies, it's also one of the greatest movies of all time. I'd give this the Best Picture Oscar for 2007, even over There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, and Atonement. 

It's the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), who was a fashion editor for Elle Magazine in France. He suffers a stroke, leaving everything but his left-eye paralyzed. This causes him to suffer from locked-in syndrome, which is like being stuck in a diving bell, surrounded by ocean, with no chance of getting out except death. It's a world filled with loneliness and limitation. The butterfly symbolises his imagination, his memories, and the thoughts that provide his only escape from the diving bell. As he gets over feeling sorry for himself, he starts working on turning his story into a novel. That novel is what this film is adapted from.

Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner gave powerful performances.
I have to say, the camerawork is up there with the best I've ever seen. To me, the use of first person mode is the most effective in the history of cinema. Seeing things through his eyes put the whole situation into perspective for me. Somehow I felt like I was stuck with his limitations, which not only gave me a heavy heart, but also a kind of bond with Jean-Dominique. We don't necessarily know if he was a kind man, or a bad person, all we really know is that he's been struck by an illness that we wouldn't wish on our worst enemies. We create our relationship with him based on this alone, which eventually strengthens as we get to know him more. Mathieu Amalric is outstanding in this role. The heart and soul of this character was mostly expressed through words and thoughts, but the rest was masterfully conveyed with his left eye. 

Max Von Sydow in one of his more emotional roles.
All of the supporting performances hit the right notes, each conveying different emotions and relationships with Jean-Dominique. I loved Marie-Josee Croze, who played the nurse that helped him communicate with his left eye. She brought a lot of the humour and light into the story, so kudos to her for that. Max Von Sydow gave a really moving performance as Jean's father, who was 87 years old and confined to his apartment (which was his diving bell of sorts). I nearly cried when he tried to talk to Jean over the phone. Don't even get me started on Emmanuelle Seigner, she was perfect! In fact, all of the performances were perfect.

The score evokes so much emotion out of me. It strikes you at your deepest core of humanity. You can't help but think of an event in your life and have it relate to the score in someway. It's so sad... yet so lovely. Let's just say that every time the score played, I shed a tear. It perfectly describes the feeling of longing, despair, regret, and hope. I tip my hat Julian Schnabel and Christian Chevalier for composing a score that describes the human condition masterfully.

Marie-Josee Croze was fantastic as his speech therapist.
I found the sequence where he starts reciting his book to be the most powerful of the film. It had such a strong sway over my emotions. His appearance from the stroke, his beautiful words, and that gorgeous score combined together and touched my soul. There was also a cool little homage to the film The 400 Blows by legendary French director Francois Truffaut. They used the same music and similar shots of Paris to show Jean-Dominique exploring the city in his new car.

I don't know what else to say really. Every time I think of this film, I get really emotional. I have a fully abled body, and this film has inspired me to use it to its fullest potential. There's so much poetry in the words of Jean-Dominique, who displayed to us vividly what it's like to be a prisoner in your own body. I may be overly sentimental, but I'd call this one of the most important movies ever made. It touched my life, and it may just touch yours.


  1. I agree with everything you said. The performances, casting, viewpoint and use of humor all worked perfectly.