Sunday, March 9, 2008

I'm such a slug

With Franny over at Lacaia's last night for a birthday party and sleepover, Gina, Michelle and I went out to watch "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," one of the big critically acclaimed movies from late last year that we didn't get a chance to see before the Oscars. Man, what an incredible film of determination, art and identity. We all three loved it, and we weren't back in the car yet before Gina declared she wanted to see it again. (And I don't think she even knew Johnny Depp was originally set to play the lead before dropping out to shoot the latest "Pirates" flick.)

The movie tells the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the 43-year-old French editor of Elle magazine, who emerges from a stroke to learn he has a rare condition called "locked-in syndrome": He's almost completely paralyzed, although his sight, hearing, memory and thought process are all working normally; he's able to think but, unable to speak or move, is "locked in" his own body.

Almost completely paralyzed, but not completely. It turns out Bauby can blink his left eye. With that little crumb, along with the patience and love of his therapists and family and his own amazing will, Jean-Do, as his friends call him, learns to communicate.

The terrifically effective insight of the director Julian Schnabel was to open the film and to portray its first act from the point of view of Jean-Do, just coming out of it in the hospital. That is, the audience sees and hears only what Jean-Do does, complete with the frustration of hearing his own thoughts but realizing that no one else does. Eventually, he, and we, catch the first reflected glimpse of Jean-Do's paralyzed, disfigured self, and only after that does the film flash back on his handsome-playboy life and open up to imagine a new, unparalyzed life.

Meanwhile, he determines to shed his initial self-pity and expand his ability to communicate. He starts with a single blink for yes, two blinks for no, but he and his therapist soon improvise a new technique: She slowly recites the alphabet; when Jean-Do hears the letter he wants he blinks, and she writes down the letter and begins again. Amazingly, using that painstaking technique, Bauby recites his story, and an entire book, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," is published.

It makes you wonder. If a guy can write a book with his left eyelid, what's my excuse? In that sense the move is incredibly uplifting, despite its tough and essentially sad subject.

Around these parts "The Diving Bell" never made it to the multiplex. We finally saw it at the Varsity, an art house in the University District, and I think it's about to leave town. Watch for it on DVD, or if it shows up where you live, M&M (&G) recommend it highly. 4 gliomas.


Lisa G. said...

You should just start writing even if it ends up being a bad subject it will open up the doors to the next book. We have been watching Masterpiece Theater on PBS for the last six Sundays. They have been featuring Jane Austen. You could pick almost any subject and write something very entertaining. Everything you write for this Blog is interesting and enjoyable to read. Your readers are waiting!

Rita said...

So THAT'S what the SNL skit was all about!

Sounds like a movie to see.

Mark said...

Wait, what SNL skit? We watch that show but I don't remember seeing anything about this movie.