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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

My left eye

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 11, 2008 -- This film (the French title is Le Scaphandre et le papillon) is based on a true story about an Elle magazine editor, Jean-Dominique Bauby (AKA Jean-Do, played by Mathieu Amalric of “Marie Antoinette”), who is driving down the road one day with his son when he has a seizure. He wakes up weeks later in a French hospital almost completely paralyzed with “locked-in syndrome.” His brain is fine, but due to cerebro-vascular damage to his brain stem he can move only his left eyelid. Gradually, he learns to communicate by blinking his eye. He asks for someone to kill him. Unlike last year's acclaimed film, “The Sea Inside,” this film does not follow the path to suicide, but rather to a triumph of sorts.

Eventually, Jean-Do learns to use his imagination to escape from the confines of his body. A writer, he regains the will to write and, with the aid of a volunteer, writes a book about his experiences, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Writing the book is slow and laborious. He memorizes several sentences each day and dictates them to an assistant, one letter at a time. The assistant recites letters of the alphabet and Jean-Dominique (“Jean-Do”) blinks when the letter he wants written down is spoken aloud. The film is about Jean-Do's book, but also about his life, who his true friends and family are, and the importance of living each day to its fullest. He finds out that some people who loved him did not stand by him when he needed them most. Others who came to comfort him in the hospital were people he had almost forgotten about. Some people, like his divorced wife, became his strongest friends.

Much of the film is shot from Jean-Do's point of view, as if we are looking through his eye. This technique gives us an idea of what it is like to be powerless, to have a narrow perspective on what is happening. The story revolves not only around Jean-Do, but his wife, children, his friends and his father (Max von Sydow of “Minority Report”). Jean-Do's regrets are palpable as he laments the things he did not do when he was able. By the way, the butterfly in the title relates to Jean-Do's vision, and the diving bell is meaningless. What he's really referring to is not a old-style diving bell or bathysphere, but one of those old bulky, heavy diving suits of the type worn by salvage divers with the weighted shoes and the big globular helmet. He felt trapped in his body as a diver is trapped in that kind of unwieldy diving suit. The film is directed by Julian Schnabel (“Before Night Falls”). The film has won numerous awards, mostly because of the fine cinematography by Janusz Kaminski (“War of the Worlds”). This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2008 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)