I’m glad a friend recommended seeing The Diving Bell and the Butterfly on the big screen and not wait for the DVD. I had missed the movie during its regular run, so I was also pleased that the Van East theatre, that no longer exists, brought it back for another weekend in the matinée time slot.
I love movie matinées. For one thing, the matinée is not as crowded as other times. The blast of light that hits my face as I leave the theatre makes me feel like a squirrel or groundhog, coming out of its nest for a journey outside. Sometimes my eyes are slow to adjust to the light, other times it’s a matter of seconds and I’ve forgotten the darkness. Some movies fade just as quickly as the darkness. But not The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. It will be with me for a long time. I’ll read the book and I’ll get the DVD to see the extras.
If I had seen The Diving Bell during 2007, when it came out, I’d put it at the top of my 2007 list, pushing No Country for Old Men to second place. First, The Diving Bell’s story is remarkable. I won’t retell it here, but the story should put all writers who complain of writers’ block to shame. Writers block. How about one letter, one blink at a time.
I always wonder why other people’s pain should serve as a marker to tell us just how good we have it. A blogger was glad that seeing The Diving Bell movie stopped him from consuming what he called “pity pills.” This seems to be a typical response to the film. I understand it perfectly. I often go to see movies when I’m feeling like crap and the outcome is always good. Even after a bad movie.
I guess I take a more pragmatic approach to The Diving Bell. What else is a journalist, who is smashed up or immobile in a hospital bed going to do with his time? The real life protagonist, Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of French ELLE magazine, already had a book deal with a publisher in place. He was a father of two children (not three as the movie depicted) and book royalties, not to mention movie rights, would provide for his family after his death. He was a stunning writer who had hours and hours each day to compose, edit and memorize his words that would later be translated by blinking one eye, the only thing on his body that could move, to a speech therapist. Seems more responsible that heroic to me. He delivered to his publisher—albeit a different book—and he lived up to his family obligations.
It’s the movie that gets all awash with heroism in its breathtaking interpretation. It’s the movie that has reviewers and viewers achingly praising the story, sometimes forgetting they are praising the movie that was built on the story. And the original story, apparently, needed a little tweaking for the screen.
Visually, The Diving Bell is a like dreaming awake. Director Julian Schnabel and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski created a stunning film, but not good enough for Bauby’s family. The family didn’t speak out for almost a year after the film’s release. Read their complaints in this Salon.com article: The Truth About . . . .
In the hands of Schnabel and screenwriter Ronald Harwood, it was no longer Bauby’s story. Real life to the screen is not always a flawless transition, and often the film is better than real life. This lures us to turn more often to film to help understand this thing called life—or to get a momentary reprieve from life.
Watch 200,000 blinks of narration from the film as Oscar-winning screenwriter Harwood discusses his role.