The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

 This French film tells the inspiring true story of Elle magazine editor-in-chief Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) whose massive stroke at the age of 43 left him paralyzed from head to toe.

When he first regains consciousness in the hospital, he can see and hear all going on around him, but soon realizes he can't communicate. He is now a victim of what they call 'locked-in syndrome,' and he likens his condition to being trapped in a diving bell submerged in the ocean.

After one eye must be sewn up by the doctors, Jean-Do is left with only his left eye both to see the world and communicate by blinking. Two helpful therapists, Henriette (Marie-Josee Croze) and Marie (Olatz Lopez Consigny), devise a method for Jean-Do to dictate his memoirs to a patient young woman, Claude (Anne Consigny). She recites the alphabet repeatedly and he blinks when she arrives at the desired letter.

Though trapped in his own body, he realizes he's able to tap into his memory as never before. Besides reliving past events, his imagination takes full flight, creating among other episodes scenes involving Napoleon III's wife, the Empress Eugenie (Emma De Caunes).

His ex-wife, Celine (Emmanuelle Seigner), brings his two young children to see him, and they respond with love and empathy, taking him for outings in his wheelchair. Old friends visit and read to him.

His present girlfriend, Ines (Agathe de la Fontaine), can't bear to see him so ill, but he continues to pine for her - "Each day I wait for you" he says, -- causing much pain to his wife, who nonetheless remains steadfast in her devotion to him.

He begins to realize that throughout his successful but superficial life, he never truly appreciated all his blessings.

Not that he was an especially religious person, as we see in a flashback sequence where he visited Lourdes for a self-described "dirty weekend" with his girlfriend, though there is some positive religious imagery in those scenes.

Eventually, we see more of his prestroke life, including his relationship with his father, Papinou (Max Von Sydow), whom he helps shave in one flashback, and who poignantly must eventually come to terms with his son's condition.

Julian Schnabel directs Ronald Harwood's adaptation of Bauby's 1997 book (published a few days before his death) which begins with everything from the perspective of the paralyzed patient, but gradually expands to a third-person perspective.

Though some may find Bauby's situation difficult to watch, the strongly life-affirming way he responded to adversity rather than succumb to despair or contemplate ending it all is praiseworthy beyond measure. (What a sharp contrast to the attitude of Ramon Sampedro in 2004's euthanasia-themed "The Sea Inside.")

Despite the mistakes of his life in the fast lane, his rebirth - much like the butterfly of the title - becomes truly redemptive, and illuminates the resiliency of the human spirit as few other movies have done.

Source: USCBC

first posted LONDON - 10 March 2008 - 400 words

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