The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) is unlike any movie we have watched in my class so far. In the film, as in real life, Jean-Do Bauby suffers from Locked-In syndrome, a condition where his entire body is paralyzed, but his mind still functions as before. This adaptation comes from a memoir Bauby wrote by only blinking his left eye, which made me concerned – how are they going to film this movie?
I did a little research before watching The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and learned that the film was nominated for four Oscars, and won BAFTAs and Golden Globes, which meant this film had substance to it; something about it made it extraordinary. I was hesitant going into this screening because I don’t particularly enjoy subtitles, and on top of that, I had no idea how this film would play out when the main character can’t move hardly any part of his body. But the way this film was shot added as much to the story as the actual script.
The film opens from inside Bauby’s head. The camera acts as his eyes, so whatever he sees, the audience sees as well. When Bauby makes sarcastic, asshole comments in response to questions, the audience hears them, even though the other characters cannot. When his eyes blur or water, the screen blurs and waters. If he rapidly moves his eye around, the camera jerks. The audience, for about half of the film, lives like Bauby.
This is a smart decision by the filmmakers so the audience is able to connect with Bauby as a character, even though he can’t talk or move. The voice over isn’t overpowering, but instead used through Bauby’s responses to other characters and his descriptions of what his life is like. We are able to understand is emotions better, especially in his tone of voice that can’t come across when someone is just reading off letters. I think this is best shown with Bauby’s interaction with his father. When he goes to shave his dad right before the stroke, his voice over talks about how much he loves his dad and how Bauby wants to be validated by him. Later in the film, when his dad is talking to him over the phone, Bauby says “I miss you too” and “don’t cry” through a translator, but since we have already seen his relationship with his father, we are able to infer his tone of voice beyond the blinking.
After we realize he’s writing a book, the voice over becomes his actual memoir. In this, he references feeling like he’s trapped in a diving bell, which is an allusion that the filmmakers constantly refer to. They show a diving bell sinking in a clouded water, muted sound and only a little light. He’s trapped, and this image is referenced frequently when Bauby wants to do something from his old life, but he can’t, i.e. when he’s objectifying women, all he can do is look now, never touch again.
I think this was probably my favorite movie we have watched so far in this class. Originally, Johnny Depp was supposed to play Jean-Do Bauby; maybe this is my selfishness coming out, but I wouldn’t like to see Depp portrayed in that way, with only one eye to show his emotion, drool running down his face. But that just might be me.