Pin It
Favorite

Take Two 

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly & r & & r & by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & iography, like the rest of art -- and like all of life -- is about small choices. It's ultimately less about the narrative structures you decide upon than how you construct them. It's less about the story than the point of view.





In bringing to life the final days of Elle editor and memoirist Jean-Dominique Bauby, Julian Schnabel has thought deeply about the small choices. It wasn't enough to tell us the story of a man trapped in his brain by a debilitating mid-life stroke. He wanted to show us.





The stroke that left Bauby paralyzed from head to toe, his left eye the only piece of his body that stayed under his control, spared most of his mind. He was as alert as ever but couldn't move. He was as intelligent as ever but couldn't communicate. His condition is known as "Locked-In Syndrome," and Bauby likens it to being put into a diving suit and helmet and being suspended in water.





And so for the first third of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the camera sits right behind Bauby's eyelids, moving as his eye moves, blinking as it blinks, blurring as his eyes well with tears and, because he was a playboy of some notoriety, staring down blouses when they come into direct view.





It's disorienting, but critical to understanding not only the world as Bauby views it, but the man's changing impression of himself. Like the man himself, we only catch snippets of his physical disposition: his curled hands as his head is lifted to place a pillow, his shrinking body as his head bobs in a bathing pool. Gradually we catch bits of his face, lax and distended, reflected in windows and brass knobs. Schnabel's camera the whole time is at an odd cock, mimicking the tilt of Bauby's precious head lolling on that useless neck.





Not until Bauby himself comes to terms with his plight -- after he goes through periods of grief and cynicism and self-pity -- and begins to learn a difficult, redundant form of blinking communication, does Schnabel pull the camera out of the body and give it more freedom to roam - around the hospital room, into apartments and offices.





At about the same time, Bauby discovers his only real escape. "I decided to stop pitying myself," he says in voice-over, the main way he communicates with the audience. "Other than my eye, two things aren't paralyzed -- my imagination and my memory." Thus he retreats into imagination and memory the way Schnabel allows us to escape back into the world. It's a wonderfully timed liberation, giving us enough time behind Bauby's eyelids to empathize with him -- indeed to understand a bit about how crazed one could get in such a state -- but not so much as to render an ambitious cinematic construct into crass shtick. Mathieu Almaric does well in memory and imagination as Bauby's hip, fashionable intellectual mind and even better as his wooden, atrophied body and free-roaming eye.





Schnabel, a painter and director (Basquiat, Before Night Falls) does a miraculous job of making his film feel hemmed-in without feeling claustrophobic and restricted without being at a loss for cinematic language. It's shot-selection as story-telling -- the kind of sensible, thoughtful brilliance that too often gets left behind in the pomp and bravado of contemporary American direction. It's relentlessly compelling. (Rated PG-13)

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • Game Changer
  • Game Changer

    Since Condon became mayor, Jan Quintrall has been responsible for some of the biggest changes in the city of Spokane — and some of its biggest controversies
    • Dec 17, 2014
  • In Contempt
  • In Contempt

    A Spokane judge rules that the mental health system has willfully failed to follow evaluation deadlines
    • Dec 17, 2014
  • Never Again
  • Never Again

    Washington state lawmakers push reforms after last July's murder-suicide; plus, Spokane's police ombudsman is leaving
    • Dec 17, 2014
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat
Spokane Winter Glow Spectacular

Spokane Winter Glow Spectacular @ Riverfront Park

Through Jan. 1, 2015

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by n/a

  • Iron Upgrade
  • Iron Upgrade

    The new one is smart and funny and action-packed, and it’s bigger and better and sleeker. And Downey does it again, this time ramping up Stark’s arrogant wisecracking, telling anyone who’ll listen (mostly women) that, via the creation of his powerful Iron Man suit, he’s brought years of uninterrupted peace to the world.
    • May 12, 2010
  • Seeing Gay
  • Seeing Gay

    A festival showing GLBT from all angles
    • Nov 9, 2009
  • Get Out the Vote
  • Get Out the Vote

    With all the uncertainty in the world these days, hot wings and cold beer are two things we can get behind
    • Nov 9, 2009
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Let Us Breathe

    Spokane joins national protests over the failure to indict white officers for killing black civilians
    • Dec 10, 2014
  • Screw Big Cities

    A mid-sized manifesto
    • Dec 3, 2014
  • More »

© 2014 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation