"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
Directed by Julian Schnabel.
Written by Ronald Harwood.
Starring Mathieu Amalric.
Release Year: 2007
Review Date: 12/30/07
Meg and I went to see "The Diving Bell and
the Butterfly" this weekend, and it is a tough sit. Director
Julian Schnabel (who did "Basquiat" from a while back) does an
incredible job of putting us in the virtual prison of the film's
principal character, but why did we have to sit there for so long?
Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) is 42
years old, the father of a couple of beautiful kids, and the editor
of Elle magazine's French edition. Then, one day, he has a
stroke so massive that it leaves him completely paralyzed over his
entire body save for one space: his left eye. With his mind
completely capable but his body completely the opposite, a team of
doctors try to work with "Jean-Do" (his nickname) to help him
recover some of his former self, even if that only means
communicating by blinking commands & approvals with his left eye.
As luck would have it, Jean-Do had a book deal that he was about to
begin fulfilling before his stroke, so with the publisher's
permission he starts a book of a different nature--a reflection of
his life before the stroke and in the hospital after it, all while
writing literally one letter at a time because the nurses at the
hospital have to read Jean-Do the entire alphabet while he blinks to
tell them which letter he wants to use.
It is the massive undertaking of writing one
character at a time that is the film's greatest achievement; imagine
that I wrote just this review by having Meg read the entire alphabet
to me and each time I picked a letter, I would blink once just after
the letter I wanted to use...and then, Meg would start over again at
A to read the entire alphabet to me while I picked out the second
letter of the word I wanted to use. Just to write this review,
that would take hours. But, once we begin to appreciate
Jean-Do's condition and situation, this writing process is
fascinating as you try to grasp what life might be like with your
mind so capable but your body unable to keep pace with all that you
want it to do...wow. Schnabel is also wise to keep his camera
perspective only coming from the eye of Jean-Do as he looks out at
his nurses, or his surroundings, or the friends that come by to
visit him. It feels like prison because it is a prison for our
This also, eventually, turns into the film's
biggest weakness later, when we move away from just seeing the
action through Jean-Do's eye in the hospital bed and we move out to
learn more about the man's life and his skewed perception of the
women in his life. Interspersed with this, we still come back
to Jean-Do sitting in bed picking letters out of the alphabet, and
later, this really made the film drag for me, so much so that I
began to occasionally fall asleep between reading subtitles and
watching Jean-Do pick letters again...ugh. Meg said it
best--the film could use some trimming (she preferred 30 minutes; I
could probably see 20 being lopped off of the end product), because
I think that the film doesn't tread any new ground later in showing
us Jean-Do's condition in the same way it was profiled earlier.
But, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
(and yes, this is a true story and the book was released about ten
years ago) does make you take a step back to appreciate just how
harrowing a condition something like a massive stroke can be for a
person, especially someone so young and certainly in a situation so
surprising. Even if it runs too long, the main point of the
story sticks with you long after you have left the theater.
Rating: $9.50 Show
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard