The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

After reading the above-entitled book, I was overjoyed when David told me the movie had arrived in Hawaii.  I had nearly given up hope of ever seeing it on the big screen.  But I guess the movie’s three Oscar nominations for best Director, Cinematography, and Film Editing brought the title to the forefront. 

This is a very touching, true story about Jean-Dominique Bauby, former editor-in-chief of the French magazine, “Elle.”  At the age of 43, he was struck down by a massive stroke, which paralyzed him from head to toe (locked-in syndrome).  He could only communicate by blinking his left eye – one blink for “yes” and two blinks for “no.”  He dictated “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” by blinking through the French alphabet while his publisher’s assistant patiently copied down the letters Bauby chose.  He died a few days after the French publication of his book, which has become an international bestseller, translated in many languages.  I read the English translation, and the movie has English subtitles.

You might be wondering about the meaning of the title.  There are many references to it in the movie.  First, you see the image of Bauby standing still in a diving bell undersea, watching the fish swim by.  Then, you meet a middle-aged friend to whom Bauby gave his seat on a jet that was hijacked to Beirut, where his friend was held hostage for four years.  He tells Bauby, who sits immobile in a wheelchair, that being held hostage in a small cell is much like being paralyzed.  Third, you see Bauby’s 92-year-old father, who bemoans the fact that he is trapped in his apartment, because he is unable to negotiate the stairs.  Of course, nothing can compare with being unable to speak, sing, eat, and move.

The butterfly, however, is Bauby’s spirit, free to flutter anywhere and everywhere through his imagination and memory, which are the only things, besides his left eye, that are not paralyzed.

There are gorgeous shots of the seashore where Bauby’s hospital is located, the busy streets of Paris where he worked, the wonderful countryside where his mistress and three children lived, as well as the culinary feast that Bauby imagines.  All transport you to France – its culture, its food, its people.

If you are unable to see the movie, do read the book.  It’s unforgettable.

2 Responses to “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”

  1. Peter Quinn Says:

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Peter Quinn

  2. Hammerin Hank Says:

    I bought this book the other day at Barnes and Noble. Dave Shapiro gave it a favorable mention in his blog. I was staying away from it because I thought it would be a downer, but Shapiro (that Dave!) says , “no, it’s inspiring.” He mentioned it because of his own battles with health. I will try to see the movie, but I’m busy as heck right now so I hope it stays here for a while (which I doubt).

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