Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Diving bell and the butterfly

Now is the time of year that some of us drag ourselves to the theaters to see the movies which have been heaped with or will be heaped with lots of praise. These are the movies that tend to move slowly but have great acting or a great storyline, usually centered around an interesting character or characters. There are few, if any, special effects and although you can eat popcorn during their showings, wine and a little valium may be more appropriate.

Yep, now is the time of year to be educated by the movies. They want us to learn about the human condition and how painful it can be. They want us to suffer above and beyond the $12 ticket price.

Although I could review The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke and Milk with Sean Penn, I’ve decided to leave those movies for later and focus on the most depressing movie of last year, The Diving bell and the butterfly. This movie came out last year but you may have missed it because 1) it is utterly miserable 2) it is in French. These are not reasons why you should avoid it in the future but you just have to be prepared with some Kleenex nearby and a good ol’ dumb comedy to be played afterwards.

The Diving bell and the butterfly is the true story of Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby who suffered such a horrible stroke that he was in a coma for three weeks and when he woke up, he only had the use of his left eye. Apparently this is called “locked in syndrome” because the mind is a prisoner inside a useless body. This is obviously a tragic event for a person at any age but Monsieur Bauby was only 43 when it happened out of the blue. Only 43! For those people who are in their twenties or younger that may seem pretty old but let me assure you, early forties is a time when a lot of people are just getting started.

It’s hard to know what anyone would do under the circumstances but Monsieur Bauby did not seem to pity himself and he was able to communicate (albeit on a very limited basis) with the use of his eye. To form a word, his friends and aids had to run through the alphabet and when he wanted a letter, he blinked. Then it was on to the next letter. As you might imagine, even saying one word took some time but Jean-Dominique was able to blink out his autobiography which later became a bestseller. The movie is from the standpoint of Jean-Domique so (without any mercy) we are enclosed within his world and share his sealed off fate. It was a very uncomfortable feeling. If ever here is a reason to believe in humane euthanasia for humans, this was it.

While I was watching the movie, I was surprised to see Naomi Watts speaking fluent French. This was a little weird because, after all, she was raised in Australian which is a heck of long way from France. But I figured that they probably teach French in Australia so whatever. I guess she learned it pretty well. Then I checked the stars of the movie and her name wasn’t there. She wasn’t even in the movie. I can’t remember the character’s name (she was the woman who initially helped Jean-Dominique blink out words) but the actress is a dead ringer for Naomi. They could be sisters. Identical twins, actually.

Anyway, there wasn’t a happy ending. In fact, the ending is more depressing than the beginning if that is possible. I found it so sad that an obviously talented man was cut down in his life before he had reached his full potential. And he went from enjoying a day with his son to a living corpse …

In the blink of an eye.

After reading all of this, you are probably thinking that you want to stay the hell away from this tear-jerker but it is definitely worth seeing. Julian Schnabel won the Golden Globe for best directing and it was well deserved. But remember, be prepared. Have a way to get a good cheap laugh afterwards. You’ll need it.

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