Today in our Kino4 screen club we watched 'Le Scaphandre et le Papillon' (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) from 2007, directed by Julian Schnabel, who is also an artist. Interesting title, interesting and sad story. It is based on the memoirs of Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor of French Elle Magazine, and also a journalist and author.
The film is from Bauby's perspective and starts by him waking up from a three week long coma, and trying to reply to the doctors but realizing they can't hear him.. he has had a massive stroke at only the age of 42. He is suffering from a rare condition called 'Locked-In Syndrome', he is aware but cannot respond or move, he is almost completely paralyzed, all he can move is his left eye. The condition has been described as "the closest thing to being buried alive".
The way this film is shot makes you feel as though you are Bauby and empathise with him even more than if it was shot in a regular way. It makes you confront the issue of strokes and other similar things which a lot of people try to forget about and ignore even if it happens to someone close to them become a shell of themselves, because it's so horrible and you don't like to see someone familiar yet...not.
Because he can't really move his head sometimes you can't see the actors in the scene's head, only their middle if they are stood up etc, just as he would if they weren't in his line of sight. There is a horrible scene where they sew up his right eye so it doesn't get infected because it isn't working properly and you see the needle coming and going through the skin and the light glowing through the skin and then stitches then darkness. It really is horrible, he is shouting and pleading for them not to do it but of course they can't hear him. It would be so frustrating.
At first he is angry at his whole situation, as most people would probably be. The speech therapist thinks she can help him and tries to help him communicate through blinking. One blink for yes, and two for no. They then expand on this and she recites the alphabet in order of frequency the letters come up in the French language, as she goes through them she watches his eye, when there is a letter he wants he blinks as she says it, then they go through it again and again until he has communicated a whole word/sentence. It's pretty amazing. At first though he doesn't want to and all he has to say is "I want to die". After this though he starts to come to terms with his condition and says
Other than my eye, two things aren't paralyzed, my imagination and my memory.He starts accepting visitors and installs a phone with a speaker. He gets in touch with his book publisher (with the help of his speech therapist)and confirms he is still going to get it finished and asks for an assistant to who he can communicate his memoirs to. It is a very lengthy process which i'm sure would seem like an impossible task, but he manages it, and 10 days after his book was published Bauby died. Communicating his memoirs everyday gave him something to do and stopped him going crazy, and before that he didn't really have the will to live, so when he had managed to tell his story and see his 'dream realised' in a way maybe he hadn't got quite as much will to live. It's strange how people sometimes seem to be able to hold on until just after an important event until they slip away, I guess it's just human will power, it's amazing though.
This film made me wanna jump around and appreciate mobility, patience, expression and communication. I thought it was a really good and interesting film even if it was quite confronting and emotional.