You think you have problems and life has dealt you a bad hand? Count your blessings after witnessing the daily struggles faced by Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor of fashion magazine Elle, who suffered a massive stroke at age 43. His brain continued to function and he was able to communicate by blinking his left eye. The rest of his body was paralyzed in a classic case of “locked-in syndrome.”
The contrasting symbols in the title refer to the oppression of being trapped in a useless body and the freedom to soar through imagination.
This movie takes you on a fantastic voyage that demonstrates the resiliency of the human spirit. It embraces life and the state of consciousness.
At first, Bauby wanted to die to escape the shackles of despair. Hope and prayer led to a unique form of communication. Letters in the alphabet were arranged on a chart in the order of frequency of usage. By blinking once for “yes” and twice for “no,” Bauby was able to express his thoughts and feelings.
One single muscle in his left eye worked overtime to produce a miraculous manuscript filled with personal memories and inventive imagination.
Director Julian Schnabel (“Before Night Falls”) draws upon his painting background with visual images on the screen that resemble painter’s strokes on a canvas. The camera acts as Bauby’s eye, capturing events from his point of view. The picture is initially fuzzy and distorted, reflecting the disorientation when awaking after almost three weeks in a coma.
The movie amazingly finds a sense of humor.
The screenplay by Ronald Harwood (“The Pianist”) tells the story brilliantly without being sentimental or maudlin.
Bauby is constantly surrounded by beautiful women caregivers.
Most of the cast will be unknown to American moviegoers. The most recognizable face is Max von Sydow, who plays Bauby’s elderly father.
A wonderful soundtrack assists in transporting the viewer out of a claustrophobic reality. Watching his life of constant repetition is tough to endure, but this film is filled with sensitivity and beauty. The cavalcade of exquisite honest moments should be relished. No better example of the Bible teachings to “choose life” can be found in modern cinema.
French with English subtitles. Opening at the Tivoli.
Keith Cohen, "The Movie Guy"