Thursday, April 24, 2014

Le scaphandre et le papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) (2007)

Today's film is Le scaphandre et le papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).  At first I wondered what a diving bell had anything to do with a butterfly.  Butterflies don't go underwater.  But as I watched the film, I saw that it was a metaphor a man had created for his body and his life.  An extraordinary event changed him forever and trapped him.

Jean-Dominique Bauby (Jean-Do to his friends) was once a promising editor at the glitzy fashion magazine Elle, based in France.  For some unknown reason, he suffered a stroke at the young age of 43 which attacked the function of his brain stem.  The doctors described it as locked-in syndrome and told him it was a very rare occurrence which trapped him inside his own body.  Jean-Do no longer had function of any part of his body.  He couldn't walk, move his arms, turn his head, nothing.  The first part of the film is shown through Jean-Do's point of view, as he discovers what is going on.  He is sad to learn he can no longer talk.  His brain functions work perfectly fine, as he can still think.  So even though he is awake and completely aware of what is going on around him, he really can't interact with the world.

Jean-Do's super hot speech therapist, Henriette, teaches him how to communicate using the only control he has: blinking his left eye.  The doctor had to sew up his right eye because he couldn't blink.  If he didn't, then it would dry up and get infected.  Henriette tells Jean-Do to try to tell her something.  She uses a series of letters, and he blinks when he hears the letter he wants, spelling out his words. He spells out "I want to Die".  Henriette is shocked and insulted because she is trying to help him, but I can't blame him.  He can't move or anything.  Poor guy can't even use the bathroom.  He's not really living, he's being kept alive by other people and artificial means.  He's moved around by people everywhere, in the pool, in a wheelchair, all to prevent bedsores and exercise him, and he's fed by a feeding tube.

I wonder if he would have benefited by learning Morse code with his blinking eye.

After a while, Jean-Dodecides to write a book about his plight.  He originally wanted to write a book based on The Count of Monte Cristo, that book we were forced to read in high school.  But he wants to tell his own story.  He feels he is trapped in his own body, like a big diving bell, unable to move himself and just floating along down in the ocean.  But, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, his spirit breaks free from his useless body and he finds happiness.   He called his book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

There are so many beautiful moments in this movie as Jean-Do basically lives in his imagination.  Ten days after the book was published, Jean-Do passed on from pneumonia.  He was never able to break free from his body in real life.  I found this film to be inspiring and powerfully sad.  Nobody deserves a fate like Jean-Do, to see the world pass him by and not be allowed to join in.  I will give this film a 9 out of 10.


  1. I agree, this is a powerful and touching story. So sad to be trapped in that way.

    1. Thanks, this was one of the most sad true stories I've seen.

  2. "Jean-Do's super hot speech therapist, Henriette"

    This brought a smile to my face because I remember thinking that if they made an entire movie of nothing but Marie-Josee Croze reciting the alphabet and sold it for a buck I might buy it.

    1. That's funny! I thought that with everything that was wrong with that guy, at least he had something nice to look at!