THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
Too Tedious, Episodic and Undeveloped
Release Date: November 30, 2007
Starring: Matthieu Amalric, Emmanuelle
Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze,
Anne Consigny, Max von Sydow,
Patrick Chesnais, Jean-Pierre
Cassel, Niels Arestrup, Olatz
Lopez Carmendia, and Marina
Audience: Teenagers and adults
Runtime: 112 minutes
Distributor: Miramax Films/Buena Vista/Walt
Director: Julian Schnabel
Executive Producer: Pierre Grunstein and Jim Lemly
Producer: Kathleen Kennedy and Jon Kilik
Writer: Ronald Harwood
Address Comments To:Daniel Battsek, President
(A Division of Buena Vista Distribution Company/The Walt Disney Company)
375 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10013
Phone: (323) 822-4100 and (917) 606-5500
Fax: (323) 822-4216
Based on a true story, the movie opens in the hospital, with the former editor of Elle magazine, Jean-Dominique Bauby, just having suffered a terrible stroke. Though his mind is fully alert, he can only use one eye and one eyelid. His mind and soul trapped, Jean-Do feels tremendous self-pity. He also feels like a deep-sea diver underwater, with no way to contact the world above.
Eventually, however, his doctors and nurses try to get him to use his one blinking eye to communicate. At first, the process is much too slow for Jean-Do’s quick mind. Then, he decides to use that ability to write a book about his experience. Soon, Jean-Do leaves behind his despair to re-connect with his children, his elderly father and the soaring possibilities of memory, imagination and creative ecstasy.
This story sounds much more compelling than it actually plays. The director often forgets his premise and fills his movie with long scenes where little happens. For example, by cutting down on the narration by John-Do, he deprives viewers of learning what Jean-Do actually thinks and feels when he sees or talks with his loved ones, such as one long scene where he visits the beach with his children and his ex-wife. There is one emotional scene where Jean-Do’s father talks with him one last time. Without Max von Sydow’s heartbreaking performance here as the father, the dramatic power of this scene would be lost. Thus, the movie needs many more emotional scenes like that one, linked together by some kind of structured plot with thoughtful, emotional high points. Making the premise more visible throughout the plot also would help.
The other thing that marks this movie a failure is the fact that it never pulls together a consistent, explicit worldview. It reaches to give viewers some implicit moral moments, including some positive references to prayer and Christianity, but they are light and not developed strongly enough to leave viewers any strong theology or strong moral philosophy. This problem, linked together with the mysterious disappearing premise, lack of jeopardy and lack of a more exciting narrative structure, make THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY a big disappointment. The movie also never shows that a personal relationship with God, and the joys and peace that it can bring, can lift and enrich the spirit of anyone who finds himself facing a serious medical problem, like the one that Jean-Dominique Bauby encountered before he died.
This story sounds much more compelling than it plays. The movie often forgets its premise, never pulls together a consistent, explicit worldview, lacks jeopardy, and is too episodic with long scenes where little happens. Some viewers will find it extremely compelling, but most viewers probably will be bored with the movie’s tedious plot. Finally, some PG-13 moments and explicit nudity require strong caution.