The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

GATW Guest Writer

by: GATW Guest Writer
December 25th, 2007



In 1995, Elle magazine's editor, Jean-Dominique Bauby, suffered a stroke. He awoke 3 weeks later and was fully paralyzed. The only exception was movement in his left eye. He had no brain damage, no memory loss and all he could do was blink his left eye. This rare condition is called Locked-In Syndrome.

His speech therapist arranged the alphabet in order from most used letter to the least used letter and would recite the newly arranged alphabet over and over. When she got to a letter that Bauby wanted, he would blink and she would write the letter down. Letters would become words and slowly the words would become sentences. This is the only way Bauby could communicate with the outside world.

Bauby decided to take advantage of his newly reestablished ability to speak and wrote a memoir titled The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The alphabet was recited over and over and each letter was written one by one as Bauby would blink. He would spend most of the day structuring his sentences and memorizing about 10 lines before he and his translator, Claude, would begin.

The book, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, is a collection of thoughts and experiences. Most of them are commentaries on his current state and some of them exceed far into his imagination.

On May 23, 2007, Director Julian Schnabel and Screenwriter Ronald Harwood (who also wrote the screenplays for Love in the Time of Cholera and The Pianist) turned Bauby's last words into a beautifully crafted movie. The film is in French with subtitles and was originally released overseas. The film just opened on Christmas day for those of us in Dallas and is playing at the Angelika at Mockingbird Station.

The film is a lot like the book, but much more organized and sequential. The cinematography is incredible. The soundtrack and original score are amazing. On somewhat of a side note, I was surprised to see that 90% of the soundtrack wasn't in French. Artists include Tom Waits, The Velvet Undergound, The Dirtbombs and U2.


Mathieu Amalric (who played Louis in Munich) plays Bauby. The role of Bauby, however, takes on different forms during the film: Bauby before the accident, Bauby during the accident and Bauby's imagination/inner thoughts. It's a lot for an actor and I'm not sure if there would have been anyone better for the part than Amalric.

The book and the film are both incredible works of art. The book is fairly short and I encourage anyone who likes to read and anyone who doesn't to go pick up a copy and read it. When you are done, go see the movie. Or vise versa, I don't care, just do it.

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  • carlos

    sounds interesting

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