People die. This is tragic, but sometimes a relief since they probably got it coming by smoking, drinking on weekends and ignoring the logo “SMOKING CAUSES CANCER” behind the teller at the cigarette counter. Death also happens to be entertaining when a vehicle (say an airliner) collides with a stationary object (um, I’ll pick a building at random). We stop the flights, blame a Nation, have a worldwide search for one of millions of bearded Arabs, and then promptly forget about the nation and go on to have a Oil Hunt in a nearby country.
All of this is in the name of Death. Excuse me being or morbid and political, but death is a sudden snip from life. Maybe because its so abrupt people have these strong reactions. This brings me two a more important point…what about a living death, an un-death. Something that keeps you awake, but dead to people around you. This is what happened to Jean-Dominique Bauby.
He was the French editor of Elle, a social icon, and became a vegetable after suffering a stroke. The common assumption is that you’re a vegetable because your brain has turned to mush, so your body is only just existing. Well Mr. Bauby fell ill to a rare disease called Locked-ln syndrome. This means you can see everything around you, and hear, but your body and mouth are mute and unresponsive. I’ll put an emphasis on see because this was all Bauby could really do.
He lay in a hospital understanding, everything said to him but unable to answer back. All he could do was blink. One blink for ‘Yes’, two blinks for ‘No’. He could communicate very slowly. Someone would stand in front of him with the alphabet. They would recite it, and he would blink when the translator came across the letter he wanted to use. She would repeat the word (once complete), and he would give a wink to confirm it. This was the terribly slow (yet, his only) way to communicate with anyone from the outside world.
Bauby had only two things that were alive, his eye and his mind. He was determined to communicate despite his ‘lock-in’ state. He decided to write a book. He had a book contract with a publisher prior to his near-fatal stroke. And decided to continue with it. This is a story of determination.
It must be hard to contemplate the psychological strain placed on someone, seeing their loved ones, enjoy life, yet unable to engage with them. Out of all the vegetables staring at hospital walls, and dribbling day in and out, Jean-Do Bauby saw life.
He wrote one of the most beautiful books written. He named it the Diving bell and the Butterfly. Diving bell because that is what he’d felt his body had become; one of those suits divers jumping into with a round metal head, and a small grill to see through. He chose butterfly because this was how precious his past memories were to him. Both were symbols of himself. The former his physical state, and the latter his fluid mind, and the freedom he found in his imagination.
This film doesn’t deserve anything less than * * * * * ! (five stars)
The imagery is extraordinary, the acting and collage of cinematic idiosyncrasies (including fine detail) can only be matched but never mastered in this memoir/biography of determination, frustration and inspiration.