In the 1990s Jean-Dominique Bauby, 43, journalist for the Elle magazine, suddenly suffered a seizure and an almost complete paralysis. Bauby’s cognitive abilities remained but he was imprisoned inside his own body. Soon Bauby’s still working left eye became an invaluable window to the world as he learned to communicate perfect sentences by blinking with the help of his speech therapist. It resulted in a posthumous autobiography The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which the film is based on.
Director Julian Schnabel, who read Ronald Harwood’s script even at his father’s death bed, has altered Bauby’s original text and directed an independent work. Mathieu Amalric performs well the demanding double role as both a paralyzed patient and the lively fashion journalist in flashbacks. Janusz Kaminski’s claustrophobic images are genuinely captivating and Paul Cantelon’s beautiful music balances the mood.
The original name for the book and the film is derived from Bauby’s own metaphors: the spirit of the paralyzed man is like a trapped diver whereas consciousness flies effortlessly on the fields of memory and fantasy. Through anxiety, grief, and new discoveries, the film becomes an empowering story about the liberating force of imagination and of the unquenchable need to communicate. (Ilpo Hirvonen)