Le Scaphandre et le Papillon

February is only a week away from coming to an end and I have yet to make a post this month. I honestly thought that I had posted at least once… but I guess I didn’t! It’s not that I’ve forgotten about the blog–I think about it every day–I’ve just been busy writing. More to come on that later.

Last week, I finally put in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I say finally because I’ve had the disc from Netflix for quite some time… it’s just not a movie that you watch for enjoyment purposes. Instead, you watch it for the experience. The film is based off of the memoir of the same name that was written by Jean-Dominique Bauby, the former editor of the French fashion magazine Elle, who in his early forties suffered a severe stroke that left him with locked-in syndrome. This means that his mind was sound, but he was unable to speak or move any part of his body with the exception of his eyes, one of which was sewn up in order to prevent an infection. In order to allow him to communicate, a version of the alphabet was put together, with the letters placed in order of most used to least used in the French language. People would recite the alphabet and he’d blink when they reached the right letter. In order to write his memoir, he had to compose the text in his head and then dictate the words in this way. I read the memoir a few years ago and immediately put the film on my to-watch list… but as I said, it’s not a movie that one watches for enjoyment, so it has taken me some time to get around to it.

While the memoir is incredibly moving and written beautifully (just read the section on the way in which the French alphabet is ordered… it’s probably one of the most beautiful texts that I have read) it’s uncomfortable, because the reader has a glimpse into the life of someone with locked-in syndrome. I felt claustrophobic while reading and I wondered how that would translate on film.

And they did it! There were times throughout the beginning of the film that I wondered if I could continue watching, as the viewer experiences what is happening through the eyes of Jean-Dominique Bauby. We are in his position, watching people speak to us and move around us without being able to interact. Later, as the film progresses, the viewer gets other perspectives and is able to experience Bauby’s life prior to the stroke.

As I mentioned earlier, when I read the book, I felt claustrophobic. That’s all I remember feeling; the diving bell portion of the story. Maybe it’s because I should have read the book slower, instead of all in one sitting, or maybe it’s because of the visual aspect of the film, but in the movie I discovered the the butterfly portion of the story. Now I’d like to reread the memoir to see what I missed out the first time that could have given me the same insight.

One piece of the story that the film is able to convey better than the book is the recitation of the alphabet and the blinking in order to communicate. I took four semesters of French during college and had a semester break between my third and fourth semesters, but spent those months keeping up with the language through tutoring at Alliançe Francaise. I was confused and frustrated while watching the recitation of the alphabet as the spoken word and the subtitles weren’t matching up. It took me a few minutes to realize that I was listening in French and reading in English so the letters weren’t matching up. At that point, I stopped looking at the TV so that I wouldn’t have to read the subtitles and just listened to the French.

Which brings me to my last thought on this rambling post about the film… the language. In one of the special features on the DVD, the director stated that he made the decision that this should be a French language film

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    February 24, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    I think you pinpointed exactly how I feel when I've read about this book or seen the movie trailer– claustrophobic. I'd really love to read it and see it now though, sounds fascinating.

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