F.I.L.M. of the Week (March 19, 2010)

19 03 2010

It’s been a long time since I have been so enthusiastic about presenting a movie as the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

I acknowledge my tendency to sensationalize and exaggerate as a blogger and critic.  In a way, it’s what I have to do to get my feelings across and make it read.  So I throw around a word like triumphant quite a bit.

I’m not sure that I have ever seen a movie that fits the word triumphant better than Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”  Simply put, the film tells the story of one of the greatest triumphs of the human will over obstacles that has even been told – no exaggerating.  And it only makes it more extraordinary to think that the movie is based on a true story.

Yes, it is entirely true that Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of Elle in France, suffered a massive stroke that left him comatose for three weeks.  When he woke up, he found himself a victim of “locked-in” syndrome.  All mental and cognitive functions worked, but nearly all physical functions were shut down because of the lack of activity in the brain stem.

But notice that I didn’t say all physical functions were shut down.  Bauby had one functional body part: his left eye.  Thanks to the help of two patient and ingenious hospital therapists, he eventually learned to talk and communicate not with his mouth, but with this eye.  And as Bauby’s confidence in the system grew, he began fulfilling his previous book contract, albeit in a manner and about a subject that no one could have expected.  His strength and determination shocked everyone, but more importantly, it inspired them.

Director Julian Schnabel, deservedly cited by the Academy for his work, does an excellent job bringing this story to the screen.  He begins the movie by showing us life from Bauby’s new perspective; that is, from a fixed position down below.  We feel the frustration as he tries to speak but slowly realizes that no one can her him.  We sense the disorientation as his right eye fails to catch up to his left.  Slowly, as Bauby comes to terms with his condition, our view expands.  We see Bauby as the world sees him.  We see Bauby as he sees himself.  We see Bauby’s dreams.  By the end of the movie, Schnabel ensures that we have fully explored the man, and he uses plenty of technical weapons in his arsenal to achieve it.  The cinematography and editing, both nominated for Oscars, are absolutely phenomenal.

I feel like triumphant is almost an understatement for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”  It’s the kind of movie that makes you wonder why more foreign films aren’t nominated for Best Picture – this easily makes my top five of 2007.  But I digress; I don’t want this to become a discussion of the politics of movie awards.  This is a movie that shows the power of the human will to overcome the most grueling of physical obstacles in a way that stirs the soul, and it needs to be seen.



4 responses

19 03 2010
Dr J

Marshall – very insightful review.

GREAT book which triumphantly displays the power of the human spirit as written (blinked) by Bauby …. very good movie, however, parts of the movie were fake.

In REAL life:
– a chauffeur was driving Bauby when he had the seizure.
-Bauby had two kids but Schnabel liked all three child actors and couldn’t make a decision of whom to cast.
– his girlfriend Florence was portrayed badly because the “mother of his children” had the rights to the book.


“His girlfriend, Florence, was at the hospital day after day spending time with him. (De la Rochefoucauld was at that point his ex.) In the book, de la Rochefoucauld is only mentioned in one bittersweet chapter in which she brings the children to the hospital to celebrate Father’s Day for the first time, and they experience a wonderful day on the beach together. ”

When you read the book first, you have a different reaction to the movie…

19 03 2010
Mad Hatter

I’m with you Marshall, this is one powerful movie – not just for the deeply moving story that it tells, but the manner in which it tells it. I’m sure there are differences between the book and the film (there always are), but I don’t think those differences will change one’s outlook so drastically as to take away from this film.

Julian Schnabel sure is one weird cat…but you gotta hand it to the guy – when he sets out to make a film, he sure does make it a memorable one!

Great post!

19 03 2010
Aiden R

Great review, man. This was my favorite movie of ’07 and the 2nd best movie of the decade after Memento. Actually like the movie more than the book, but the story is still unbelievably powerful. Cried like a baby at this movie, one of the closest things I’ve seen to art in cinema.

1 04 2010

Marshdog, you know that I actually accept this movie as god.

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