Along with Return to Oz, I received The Diving Bell and The Butterfly in the mail via Netflix. I was somewhat curious about it when I heard it mentioned during the awards season earlier in the year. I was made more curious when a friend mentioned a particular way in which the director conveys the perspective of the main character. I kind of wish now that I had rushed out to see it while it was in theaters because it's just such a beautiful film to look at (I lament the fact that I went through a similar ordeal with Moulin Rouge! having never seen it in a true theater). Unfortunately, it had to be subjected to my rather shoddy television which can't even handle stereo sound. Oh well, let's carry on. Shall we?
This cinematic gem is about a man who suffers a stroke and becomes completely paralyzed except for his left eye. He can still see through the one eye, and he can hear reasonably well. Through the help of a speech/communication therapist, Mr. Bauby learns to communicate with the outside world through a system utilizing his ability to blink. Bauby, a magazine editor and father, has to come to terms with the direction his life has taken.
Until I saw this movie, the title absolutely escaped me. I guess mathematicians have a difficulty 'getting' symbolism until somebody takes them aside and explains it to them discretely. Now that I have seen it, I couldn't imagine another title fitting more perfectly. Bauby...(you know what? His friends call him Jean-Do, so I think I'll just refer to him as Jean-Do from hereon after)...Jean-Do compares his situation frequently to that of a man in a diving bell and a butterfly. It's not hard to imagine how he can relate to a man in a diving bell, relying on a single 'tube' for his only connection to the outside world. I suppose the butterfly has to do with the metamorphosis Jean-Do goes through while he remains in his 'cocoon,' and the butterfly is his ability to explore the world through his thoughts, the only route left for him to escape from this 'cocoon.' But I once again pull the mathematician card on how confident I am that this is a reasonable guess.
I am quite happy with the choice the director made for the introduction to the main character. We learn most everything about Jean-Do from his perspective. It's such a smart but simple move that I don't think I could imagine a different way of doing it. As an audience member, I am allowed to sympathize just a little bit more with Jean-Do as I, too, am unable to move within the realm of this world. All we can do is hear and see...just like Jean-Do. The director eventually breaks away from this style a little more as the film develops (I never tire of that pun, must be a Good Year). I wonder if this choice is made to give the audience a break, or if it's meant to mimic Jean-Do's growing ability to, in some form, break free from the restrictions of his broken body.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is also really well written. The characters are interesting and feel true to life. I suppose being based on a true story helps with that. Real life will usually produce better characters for stories. The performances are also spot on. There's this one scene that still remains in my mind where Jean-Do communicates to his speech/communication therapist that he wants to die. Of course his communication comes only letters at a time, so the look on her face as she begins to guess what he's trying to say until the thought is confirmed is so... human.
In closing, I just want to add that I really appreciated the mentions of The Count of Monte Cristo. When I first learned of the main plot of the film, that was where my mind went. Having read the Dumas novel, I knew it contained a character that also was forced to communicate through a system of blinks. Seeing them mention it several times throughout the movie made me feel warm inside. I think I'm in love with that book.