The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Slice into a locked-in-syndrome | 112 minutes

Movie Info


In the back of my mind, I can never forget this could be gone tomorrow – and at this point I think the odds are against me…but deserve to be where i can be…..

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is an exemplary French film made by Julian Schnabel and written for screen by Ronald Harwood. The film gestures the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a man who experiences the catastrophe, his struggles and survival being a victim of a rare kind of stroke to the brainstem called ‘locked-in-syndrome,’ the paralysis down his neck with no control of his body, except his functional eyes. The movie takes us in his journey from his body disorder to discover the new way to converse and through his therapist, learns to wink his eyes and blinks a code representing letters of the alphabet became his sole means of communication, thus making it possible to pen this story, he always wanted and days after the book release, meets his end. An inspiring story of his clutched struggle and survival, in its firepower of imagination, brings out the seed of triumph in adversity reveals an extraordinary memoir.

Julian Schnabel, an American painter and director brought this true story a decade later as his third feature film, won awards at the Cannes Film Festival, the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs & the Cesar Awards, and received four Academy Award nominations. Schnabel’s film manages an emotional nostalgia, artistries the feelings and finesse; a tad of pictorial contending is worth conveying.  Mathieu Amalric’s performance as Bauby is outstanding, firstly his one very expressive eye, remote in his unspeaking and visual socket extents significant originality, followed the first half is shot totally from Bauby’s point of view, typical as seem far more obvious in his blink, the screen for a short time goes dark, and hazes out of focus. In his first wake from his coma, the audience understanding is only restricted to Bauby’s own consciousness. Evident in vocalised inner thoughts and discover the grounds and degree of his paralysis and thou we connect his own reflection through the halfway of the movie.

The plot opens as Bauby wakes from his three-week coma in room 119 of the Naval Hospital in Berck-sur-Mer, on the French Channel coast. Soon after an initial rather over-optimistic analysis from one doctor, a neurologist explains that he has locked-in syndrome, an extremely rare condition in which the patient is almost in a complete physical paralyze, but remains mentally normal. At first, the viewer primarily hears Bauby’s thoughts. The frame is audio void that means no one hears him and isolated to the other characters, which is seen through his one functioning eye.

Right in the Naval hospital, where Bauby will spend the rest of his new life. His days are a slow monotony of baths, speech, and physical therapy, and, if he is lucky, brief trips outside. In course, the speech therapist and physical therapist restore to help him become functional, as Bauby starts blinking his left eye, as the doctor reads a list of letters to strenuously spell out his messages, letter by letter. The code is based on the alphabet being organized according to each letter’s frequency of use in the French language. Bauby blinks his one working eyelid until he reaches the letter desired and then starts again for the next letter in a word. The process is laborious and exhausting and few people actually take the time to learn the code.

Steadily, the film thickens out Bauby’s point of view- Most of Bauby’s time is consumed with letting his mind flitter as his thoughts travels him to Hong Kong, remembers pieces of his old life, composing books and plays, and creates elegant meals, and far away times, places of imaginary beaches, mountains, the Empress Eugenie and an erotic feast with one of his transcriptionists, thus revealing Jean-Dominique Bauby, a lively, adventurous editor for French Elle magazine, in his early forties and enjoying life with his young children and that he had a deal to write a book (meant at first going to be based on “The Count of Monte Cristo” but from a female perspective). He decides that he will still write a book, using his slow and exhausting communication technique. A woman from a publishing house with which Bauby had the original book contract is brought in to take dictation.

The new book describes what’s like to now be him, confined in his body, which he sees as being within an old-fashioned deep-sea diving suit with a brass helmet, which is called a scaphandre in French, as in the original title. The others around see his spirit, still alive, as a Papillion, la Butterfly. The film lifts onto a new level, as you realise that his surrender to the fact of his paralysis creates a platform for yet an unknown form of personal progression.

 The layers of his writings are contrasted to his recollections and regrets until his blow. The film regularly uses flashbacks, in which you see how life was before the stroke-hip, modern and fast. One becomes acquainted with a smart and attractive man, in the prime of his life; one meets his various lovers, his children, his father and ex-wife. A spot of dry humour rendered in those reflections of narrative, about his ill luck and life under better environments, besides the surreal echoes of the other lives bear similarity to his own entrapment- a friend who was kidnapped in Beirut and held in solitary confinement for four years, and his own 92-year-old father, who is confined to his own apartment, because he is too frail to descend four flights of stairs.

Bauby ultimately completes his memoir and hears the critics’ responses. He dies of pneumonia ten days after its publication. The closing credits are highlighted by reversed shootings of breaking glacier ice, accompanied by the Joe Strummer & the Mescalero’s song Ramshackle Day Parade. The visual glimpse in the film is excellent, especially the first person perspective of Bauby’s own depiction of his situation in complete isolation from the rest of the world is a touch of incite, unusual, unique and experience untold…..

The spectrum of protagonists’ quandary is well articulated and crafted. Since it is based on real-life events, the canvas symbolizes the unpretentious elements and Julian’s stories weaving of back and forth were quiet essential. The unrevealing of Bauby’s mental layers is amazing captured, be it the mind’s eye travel or fantasies, agonising stress in his communiqué, or claustrophobic backdrop, and in all which the expressions ultimately cannot be denied, much more the tragedy in of itself and film stands true to its conviction. A great team work indeed.

“On a table cluttered with empty cups stands a small typewriter with a sheet of pink paper stuck in the roller. Although at the moment the page is utterly blank, I am convinced that someday there will be a message for me there. I am waiting”

“I am fading away. Slowly but surely. Like the sailor who watches his home shore gradually disappear, I watch my past recede. My old life still burns within me, but more and more of it is reduced to the ashes of memory.”

Jean-Dominique Bauby- The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Film Crew

  • Directed by Julian Schnabel
  • Produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Jon Kilik
  • Written by Ronald Harwood
  • Based on The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
  • Cast: Mathieu Amalric; Emmanuelle Seigner; Marie-Josée Croze; Anne Consigny; Max von Sydow
  • Music by Paul Cantelon
  • Cinematography Janusz Kamiński
  • Edited by Juliette Welfling
  • Production company: Canal+; Kennedy/Marshall Company & France 3 Cinéma
  • Distributed by Pathé (France) & Miramax Films
  • Release dates: May 22, 2007 (Cannes Film Festival)
  • Run time of 112 minutes
  • Country: France & United States
  • Language: French

Trailers & Videos


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) Trailer

Slice into a locked-in-syndrome

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