The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (DVD)

I watched this movie for the first time last evening. It is fascinating and beautiful and immensely moving.

Still Image from the film

The film is life-affirming and deals with the experience of consciousness from the perspective of Jean-Dominique Bauby with ‘locked-in’ syndrome.┬áThere is direct eye contact between the doctors and therapists and the camera lens, which is the patient’s perspective and therefore becomes the perspective of the audience.

It is as though the audience is placed inside the mind of the patient and inside the physical body. There is one profound scene where the doctor is forced to sew one of his eyes up to prevent infection. As the audience, we are situated behind the eyes of the patient and watch as the needle and thread closes the eyelid and the lights fade. From this point onwards, the camera views, editing and direction causes you to feel part of the patient, of his physicality, his story and the unearthing of his memory around the incident, his imagination, fantasies and desires.

You are guided through the film by Jean-Dominique’s inner voice and it begins to become your inner voice. The frustrations he feels, you begin to feel, as a viewer. The intense gaze from the clinical staff and the emotional conversations and thoughts he has with himself and his family are superimposed into the viewers mind and this exposes the Universal perspective of what it means to be human and what it means to experience consciousness within the body that we inhabit.

With only one eye and the inability to turn his head, we are succumbed to a limited view – constructed by this limiting condition. When the patient sheds tears, so the camera appears to mimic the view of the room as it appears blurry and out of focus. We see as the patient sees. The nurse at the end of the bed who isnt paying attention to whats going on in the hospital room, the abstracted view of the curtains and the flowers on the bedside table – focus changing from one object to another, the perspective of the patient as his children arrive one by one to kiss him on his cheek.

The film embodies all that it means to be human and trapped within a ‘diving bell’. The viewer is made to feel disorientated and confused as the patient is experiencing the same. The viewer is part of the interaction between physician and patient.

I understand the vulnerability of the body from a place of illness and through this film, I re-encountered some of the feelings and associations that I felt in hospital, no longer recognising the body I once thought I knew.


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