Film review: the Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Based on a novel of the same name (Le Scaphandre et le Papillion in French), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the true story of a man who suffers from ‘locked-in syndrome’. This is a rare neurological condition which has no effect on mental capacity but leaves sufferers unable to move a muscle – except for the left eyelid in his case.

Amazingly, the author of the book, and central character in the film, is the man who was victim of this cruel fate. Jean- Dominique Bauby was enjoying a fast-paced and fulfilling existence as editor-in-chief of Elle magazine when a sudden and massive stroke stripped him of his movement, and ultimately his life. In an amazing achievement, he managed to painstakingly commit his story to paper using only blinking movements, a specially devised alphabet, and the aid of a companion to transcribe.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this would not be an uplifting film to watch – certainly not one for when you’re feeling down in the dumps and looking for a little escapism – but in actual fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The film is actually very funny in parts, and although a very sad and moving story, it serves as a great reminder for how easy it is to take life for granted, and how it is possible to triumph in even the greatest of adversity.

Jean-Dominique, or ‘Jean- Do’ as he is referred to throughout the film, is played by Mathieu Amalric, widely considered to be one of the greatest French actors today. The film itself won Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director at the Golden Globes and was nominated for four Oscars – deservedly so, the general consensus seems to suggest.

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