That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le scaphandre et le papillon)

Sunday, April 6th, 2008 8:50 pm—Film

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly(France 2007, Biography/Drama), Writer: Ronald Harwood; Director: Julian Schnabel

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is based on the autobiography of Elle France editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), who suffered a stroke at the age of 43 and was left paralyzed everywhere except his left eye.

As imagined by Julian Schnabel—a prominent American painter and Academy-Award nominated filmmaker—Bauby’s world evolves from one seen through a tiny crack in the wall, to one full of wonder, pleasure and beauty, a world of infinite scope where anything is possible.

The film’s title refers to Bauby’s discordant outlooks on the world. At first, through narration that represents his thoughts, Bauby likens his situation to being trapped in a diving bell. But before long, he imagines that he is a butterfly, able to escape the confines of his cocoon and soar across the world, back and forth through time, from reality to fantasy and back again.

The transition occurs when Bauby remarkably announces, “I decided to stop pitying myself. Other than my eye, two things aren’t paralyzed: my imagination and my memory.” From then on, we are treated to more of the world, as others see it and, more importantly, as Bauby imagines it.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is gorgeously filmed by acclaimed cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (who shot most of Steven Spielberg’s movies). The lighting; the hazy, surreal, tones; the subtle and frequent focus shifts… Kaminski does a phenomenal job of pulling the viewer into Bauby’s world.

Through his memory and fantasies, we learn of Bauby’s passions, regrets, mistakes and flaws. We see his devoted but estranged wife by his bedside, reading to him, sharing her life with him still, while the woman he left her for is too childish and self-absorbed to visit him.

We also get a strong sense of his personality. He was a funny man. When a telephone repairman jokes about Bauby being a heavy breather, the speech pathologist, Henriette, (played by wonderful Quebec actor Marie-Josée Croze) is deeply offended and tells the repairman off. But we hear Bauby’s internal laughter, and his thoughts: “Henri, you have no sense of humour.”

I really loved this film. Visually, it’s a work of art. Spiritually, it’s touching, moving, upsetting. It makes you appreciate the potential we have in our own lives, seeing what Bauby was capable of with only his left eye and his mind’s eye. It also sheds light on people’s tremendous capacity for love and forgiveness.

The incredible part is that this is a true story. After learning to communicate by blinking, the real-life Bauby ultimately decides to “write” his memoirs with the help of an unfathomably patient transcriptionist. Slowly, painstakingly, he recounts his story in detail—one letter, one blink, one wing beat at a time.

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