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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

I thought that I had been as deeply moved by a movie as I would ever be. I also thought that I would never again forget that I was watching a movie. I think that if I had been watching The Diving Bell and The Butterfly alone, I would have paused it often for crying breaks.

After hearing about this movie in class, I really wasn't sure how successful the decision to shoot the movie in first-person, almost completely through the main character, Jean-Dominique Bauby's eyes, would be. Sometimes it seems like too many camera tricks and gimmicky techniques can really take a person out of the experience (breaking the fourth-wall, you might say). However, there was a moment, while he is talking in his thoughts in the voice-over that goes on through out the film, when he imagines his story becoming a stage play. I honestly remember thinking that I wasn't sure if I could imagine it visually, until I remembered that he already wrote his book, that it was turned into a movie, and then I finally realized that that was what I was watching. Instead of making you aware of the film, the way cinematic conventions are broken instead just made it feel like something other than a film.

It is very difficult to explain the experience. Mostly, the viewer only sees what Bauby would have seen from his locked-in state, and the camera is basically stationary from shot to shot. His thoughts, and the voice over of them, happen in real time. They are in direct relation to what is happening at the moment so it's like we are with him in his head, we see everything that is contributing to his thought process. As viewers, we are also disconnected from the people around him, and we are as helpless in the situation as he is. This creates such an intense connection... What is so meaningful to me is how even though he felt so completely alone, his words and the movie itself were able to put us inside of his head. I was so glad that he was at least very physically close to people who loved and cared for him during what seemed to be the majority of his time.

There were a few moments that I found to be particularly powerful in the way they were done. Bauby can only communicate through a series of blinks and since it is through his perspective, blinks look just like they do when you blink your own eyes. During one scene, Bauby talks to his father over the telephone. Afterwords, he is trying to say something--so you hear his therapist going through the alphabet and you know he is waiting to blink at the correct letter, but his eye is also beginning to fill with tears and everything gets blurry, but this is his only way of expressing himself and his desire to do so is so strong that he holds his eye open, and tears are rolling down my own face, and the camera holds the shot for so long until he finally blinks and the scene changes.
Another scene shows the moment when he has his stroke. This part is not shot through his perspective, and I think that was a very good directorial decision. This way, we are able to see both him and his son at the moment the stroke occurs. Bauby begins to act differently while he is driving with his son, and we the boy pulling back from his father in fear of what is happening to him, and we become aware that this is the very moment when he becomes totally isolated.

Watching the film, I become more and more grateful that he was able to find a way to communicate, that the people around him cared for him, and that he was able to express himself, share his consciousness with these people and with us. I feel like there is so much more to say on this movie, but I think I could go on for too long.