Movie Review: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Last year when I was living in Colorado I spent a bunch of time with my friend Stan James and along the way he gave me a copy of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. It was fantastic. I read it soon after reading Chasing Daylight, a book that left me in tears (something that rarely happens), and they were an interesting pair. Chasing Daylight is written by high powered exec who documents how he spends his final months before dying of cancer. Diving Bell and the Butterfly is also written by a high powered exec who documents how he spends his days paralyzed — his whole body frozen except for the blink of his eye, which he uses to communicate letters and words to a speech therapist who then types out the sentences.

Both are powerful first-hand accounts which capture the preciousness of each day we live. They produced, for me, an effect of profound sadness followed by inspiration to "live each day of my life," and to feel grateful for that opportunity. The books also are a bit soothing for those of us who fear death and who expect nothing after death.

Last weekend I saw the movie version of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. It’s awesome! I highly recommend it, regardless of whether you’ve read the book. It’s in French with English subtitles. I imagine it would be easy to screw up this kind of movie since the subject matter is so delicate. Yet this one pulls it off. It opens from the perspective of Bauby, paralyzed. We look out his eyes. Excruciating. Eventually we see him from the outside but the sense of stillness penetrates every active moment in the movie. Amazingly, despite the theme, the movie has several funny parts — laugh out loud funny, not cynical funny. This makes it more than bearable to sit through for two hours. The acting all around is superb.

I don’t see nearly enough movies. I’m glad I saw this one. It deals with a hard topic with infinite grace and has left me thinking about it several days later.

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