Directed by Julian Schnabel. Written by Ronald Harwood. Stars Mathieu Almaric & Emmanuelle Seigner.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the story of lively fashion magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby’s life with the mysterious “locked-in” syndrome. Bauby, a bit of a rock star in his own way, is thrown into a coma after an unexpected (he was young and healthy) stroke. When Bauby awakens 3 weeks later, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly begins. We then discover that Buaby is completely paralyzed except for his left eye. His brain functions normally, and so while he can comprehend and think just as he used to, he cannot speak or move.

The majority of Diving Bell takes place from Bauby’s perspective. The camera becomes his left eye, blinking and crying and all. When we’re not seeing the story from Bauby’s eye, we’re deep in his mind’s thoughts and memories. We only get several shots of Bauby from an outside view, of him in his current state.  Julian Schanbel’s method for turning the camera into the left eye can really only be described as incredible. When Bauby cries, the camera blurs before rapid blinks clear the view.  Schnabel is able to convey multiple emotions and keep the audience hooked even from the limited perspective of one eye in a motionless body.  The trips into his mind are equally unique, and are every bit as abstract and dreamlike as you might expect.

Schnabel’s genius with the camera mixed with the wonderful cinematography and moving story make Diving Bell one of my favorites from the past year.  It’s a beautiful movie.  One-of-a-kind.


The trailer for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly:



  • lkorn

    I finally saw this. I went in with high expectations and came out with expectations exceeded. What a sad film — My view of things may have been the same as Bauby’s throughout; blurred tears and all.

    I really enjoyed The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, but wish I could’ve come to know the character more deeply. Viewers come to understand only pin points of Bauby’s past character and are then thrown into the aftermath (if you can call it that) of such a character’s previous actions, in his entombed state. We know that he was an editor of Elle, and thus must have had a wonderfully chaotic life, but we’re only given a small taste of what he was like as the woman-crazy, fashion-forward sweet talker. I suppose, though, that in order to keep the film gentle (which is a fairly appropriate word, I think), the memories we were allowed to see were sufficient enough to understand… And what about his relationship with “the mother of [his] children” and his children? We’re given very little insight to the meanings of these relationships, save a comment by Bauby in regret to how he treated them – but with no detail.

    I agree with you, Evan, in that the director, Julian Schnabel, did a great job. Supposedly (side note), he was given the job on request from Johnny Depp, who, according to the Los Angeles Times, was first casted as Jean-Do (he dropped the spot because of the conflicting scheduling of At World’s End). Schnabel insisted the film be made in French to maintain the rich language of the book, according to the article, and learned French to do so.

    This film left me wanting to know/find someone who knows all of me, if that makes any sense at all — A person, or persons, who would know me so well that I wouldn’t feel threatened by being “locked in”. That being said, I think it a wonderful thing to put direct emphasis on the relationship between Bauby’s translator/stenographer and himself, titling the book (and keeping the title for the movie) The Diving Bell (Claude, the stenographer) and the Butterfly (Bauby).

    I’ve said and critiqued probably too harshly. I give it a 9/10.

  • mangold

    feel free to attach your review to mine, though it’s pretty far back on the site so it’s probably not worth the trouble.

    also, johnny depp starred in schanbel’s last movie, “before night falls,” which is supposedly really great and will be shipped to be via netflix any day now 🙂

    i didn’t know that about schnabel learning french, cool stuff.

  • Claude P. Sumner

    I loved “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”, but the movie I’d rather see is “My Stroke of Insight”, which is the amazing bestselling book by Dr Jill Bolte Taylor. It is an incredible story and there’s a happy ending. She was a 37 year old Harvard brain scientist who had a stroke in the left half of her brain. The story is about how she fully recovered, what she learned and experienced, and it teaches a lot about how to live a better life. Her TEDTalk at TED dot com is fantastic too. It’s been spread online millions of times and you’ll see why!

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