Monday 11 January 2016

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, France | USA, 2007)

‘Mr Bauby, keep your eyes open.’ The voice, which belongs to Dr. Cocheton, is coming through in waves. ‘You’re going to be fine, I promise.’ It soon becomes apparent – to Jean-Dominique Bauby – that he is not going to be fine, at least not by any definition of ‘fine’ he would have had prior to awaking in a bed in the Naval Hospital in Berck-sur-Mer. He has had a stroke and has been in a coma for three weeks. Visited by neurologist Dr. Lepage, he is diagnosed as having suffered a cerebrovascular accident which has ‘put his brain stem out of action.’ The link between Bauby’s brain and spinal column no longer fires, is broken, he is paralyzed. His mind is unaffected, and he can see and hear (sense functions that do not depend upon the brain stem), but Jean-Do can neither move nor speak. He has ‘locked-in syndrome.’ So begins The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

These awakenings (from the coma; to his situation) are filmed from Jean-Do’s point-of-view. The camera is his perception. Circumscribed by flesh, eyelids frame the visual field which mimics, using a blurred image, his early attempts at focusing. Blinking performs jump-cuts, the closing of his weary eyes fade the image to black and ends a sequence. Framing, shot and montage are organically linked to Jean-Do’s body. Filmed from a prone, bed-bound position, the mise-en-scène is restricted to a wall and ceiling, all events must enter and exit this visual field – the camera is a fixed point. Doctors, nurses, carers, friends and family are either partially out of view, too close or too far away. One of his eyes fails him, the upper and lower lids are stitched together – we see the needle and thread sowing shut the frame. The spectator thus experiences the film as Jean-Do experiences the world; director Julian Schnabel’s cinematic process is one that attempts the most extreme identification...

To read the full exploration of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly through the Deleuze's sign of 'solid perception,' see Deleuze's Cinema Books: Three Introductions to the Taxonomy of Images

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