"I decided to stop pitying myself. Other than my eye, two things aren't paralyzed, my imagination and my memory."
Julian Schnabel's French film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, is a powerful and emotional film about a man suffering from locked-in syndrome due to a stroke. Despite having his mental faculties intact, he is almost completely paralyzed and unable to communicate with the outside world. The once successful magazine editor is now living as a prisoner of his own body. The only muscle he is capable of moving is his left eye and with the help of a therapist he manages to communicate by blinking his eye. Mathieu Amalric gives a powerful performance as Jean-Dominique Bauby, and most of the film takes place from his point of view. Schnabel brilliantly and effectively uses camera angles to give the audience a glimpse of what this person's claustrophobic world was like. From the very opening scene we are hooked and drawn to Jean-Do's new world as he's trapped in his body. It is a very emotional film based on the autobiography written by Bauby himself who managed to write the book with the help of his therapist through the use of a communication system they developed. The sole fact that this man was able to write a book in the condition he was in, is reason enough for me to want to read his book or see a movie based on his life. It takes a lot of courage to open up the way Jean-Do did, and I think it is one of the main reasons why this film worked so well for audiences across the globe. It says a lot about how powerless we are against these illnesses, but at the same time we can also share Jean-Do's approach of learning to deal with his disability and facing the obstacles with optimism. He realized that despite being physically disabled he still had his mental faculties and was able to break those boundaries with the power of his imagination. I am also certain that this element is what caught director Schnabel's attention and what pushed him to make this film. He tells the story with such class that despite the emotional moments you never feel he was trying to be manipulative or force the audience into feeling a certain way. The performances in this film are also outstanding, making this an even more engaging movie. I also loved the beautiful imagery that Schnabel used, turning the film into a poem at times.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was a personal film for me considering that my father is going through a slightly similar experience as the character in this film. He suffered a stroke four years ago and hasn't been able to speak since. The right side of his body was paralyzed, but with help from therapy he has been able to walk again. Despite not being able to speak he understands everything and communicates with us through signs and facial expressions. The brave way in which he has managed to face his illness by always being in good spirits and not letting the disease get the best of him is a constant reminder for me of how much our attitude influences the way we approach life. He could be feeling sorry for himself, or he can stay positive and continue to improve with therapy in a similar way that Jean-Do did with his locked in syndrome. Having your mental capabilities intact is a major force considering you can escape those limitations in your mind and let your imagination fly. In a way, it was a turning point for Jean-Do when he realized this and Schnabel managed to capture those moments really well on camera. The scenes he shares with his family members are among my favorite in the film. I loved the scene in which he's in the beach with his ex-wife and kids. It is such an emotional scene but at the same time it felt authentic and real. The scenes with his father, played by Max von Sydow, are also extremely powerful and effective. You rarely see a biopic like this one, and Schnabel deserves all the credit for making an original and moving picture.