The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Individuals experience and express a vast range of emotions when faced with challenging life circumstances. Frustration, anger, hope, and determination are among said sentiments. Some may also avoid facing life-altering fears and encounters, later regretting their evasion. However, the course of life events may swerve such that our approach to opposition is tested and there is no option but perseverance. “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is a powerfully constructed Academy Award-nominated French film directed by Julian Schnabel, delving into these ideas. The true story of the film is in itself quite remarkable, but the methods of its conveyance are equally incredible.

Jean-Dominique Bauby (played by Mathieu Amalric) was the very successful editor of the French ELLE magazine, and also has three children. He suffered a very severe stroke affecting his brainstem at the young age of 42, resulting in locked-in syndrome. Bauby could clearly understand every word spoken to him. However, he was unable to communicate verbally and was also completely paralyzed. The extremely strong-willed speech language pathologist Henriette Durand (Marie-Josee Croze) used a French language frequency-ordered alphabet to encourage communication with Bauby, as he would blink with his left eye to verify specific letters to be used to create words and sentences. It was with great resolve and fortitude that he decided to fulfill his contract with a local publisher. This process was thus initiated with the aid of patient stenographer Claude Mendibil (Anne Consigny).

This film was unfortunately ineligible for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards in 2008 due its production by the American Kennedy-Marshall Company. It was nominated for four awards however, including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay (Ronald Harwood), Best Film Editing (Juliette Welfling), and Best Cinematography (Janusz Kaminski). These were all very deserving, in my opinion. Bauby’s first person perspective and narrative are imperative in empathizing with him in his dire situation. This also allows us to appreciate the imagination and memories that he dearly cherishes, as we all must cling to these as a means of identity preservation. The interweaving of the past and present combined with beautiful and sometimes harsh images of nature enhance the storytelling, creating a contrast between the joys and sorrows of daily life.

As briefly mentioned in the previous paragraph, the beauty and bleakness of existence are frequently discussed in the film. The title of the film alludes to this as well. The images and references of a diving bell represents the sensation of confinement that is a part of Bauby’s new reality. However, the butterfly images and references signify positivity, hope, and perseverance within this entrapment. Other characters express former and current sentiments of captivity to Bauby as a means of boosting his coping skills and outlook. Overall, I believe that humans feel a variety of restrictions in self-expression. For example, one character in the film was once held hostage while another’s mobility was highly limited and thus could not leave their apartment. As stated in the film, maintaining one’s sense of humanity and integrity through these situations provides great motivation and a will to live. I feel that this ideology rings true to so many challenging situations we face, and that tenacity is achieved through this core belief.


I do not own the above image.

This movie review is part of the “31 Days of Oscar” Blogathon hosted by Aurora of Once Upon A Screen…, Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled, and Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club. I am very excited to take part in this blogathon, and look forward to reading a wide variety of interesting posts!



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