The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

2007

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Critics Consensus

Breathtaking visuals and dynamic performances make The Diving Bell and the Butterfly a powerful biopic.

94%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 169

92%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 149,966
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Movie Info

The astonishing true-life story of Jean-Dominic Bauby -- a man who held the world in his palm, lost everything to sudden paralysis at 43 years old, and somehow found the strength to rebound -- first touched the world in Bauby's best-selling autobiography The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (aka La Scaphandre et la Papillon), then in Jean-Jacques Beineix's half-hour 1997 documentary of Bauby at work, released under the same title, and, ten years after that, in this Cannes-selected docudrama, helmed by Julian Schnabel (Basquiat) and adapted from the memoir by Ronald Harwood (Cromwell). The Schnabel/Harwood picture follows Bauby's story to the letter -- his instantaneous descent from a wealthy and congenial playboy and the editor of French Elle, to a bed-bound, hospitalized stroke victim with an inactive brain stem that made it impossible for him to speak or move a muscle of his body. This prison, as it were, became a kind of "diving bell" for Bauby -- one with no means of escape. With the editor's mind unaffected, his only solace lay in the "butterfly" of his seemingly depthless fantasies and memories. Because of Bauby's physical restriction, he only possessed one channel for communication with the outside world: ocular activity. By moving his eyes and blinking, he not only began to interact again with the world around him, but -- astonishingly -- authored the said memoir via a code used to signify specific letters of the alphabet. In Schnabel's picture, Mathieu Amalric tackles the difficult role of Bauby; the film co-stars Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze, Anne Consigny, and Patrick Chesnais.

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Critic Reviews for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

All Critics (169) | Top Critics (49)

  • What's fascinating is that it is the very restrictions the story imposes on a director that allow Schnabel to turn it into such an eerie stunner of a movie.

    Oct 18, 2008 | Full Review…

    Bob Mondello

    NPR.org
    Top Critic
  • Nothing in director Julian Schnabel's career so far has anticipated the sweetness, sadness, maturity and restraint of this lovely movie.

    Oct 18, 2008 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is one of the best movies of 2007, but I'd argue it's also the one most in tune with what this season of goodwill and tolerance is supposed to be all about.

    Oct 18, 2008 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…
  • A deeply affecting film.

    Feb 5, 2008 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Anna Smith

    BBC.com
    Top Critic
  • An exquisite metaphor for the redemptive power of cinema. Without an ounce of cheap sentiment, this true story is as profoundly moving and dreamily beautiful as any film in recent memory.

    Jan 14, 2008 | Rating: A
  • It's a subject and a film that perfectly blends the tragic with the triumphant.

    Jan 10, 2008 | Rating: 5/5

Audience Reviews for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

  • Mar 24, 2013
    One of the most stunning emotional knockouts recorded in cinematic history concerning an editor (Mathieu Amalric) who suffers a massive stroke, but remains determined to write his memoirs of his experiences through communicating with the only part of his body that isn't paralyzed, one of his eyes, to an aide. What director Julian Schnabel has constructed is an unnerving, extremely personal masterpiece in struggling to overcome an affliction, and the self-doubts, guilt, anger, and fleeting hope one encounters along the way. The acting is very good, although that is not what is most impressive about the film, which is how it is told through Amalric's character's perspective, showing just how much of a struggle something like this can be. While it is relentlessly sad, it is powerful and incredibly moving all the way through. This is a movie that should be a must-see for anyone who knows someone dealing with a stroke or some other kind of physical ailment. It does a flawless job capturing the emotional cycle and inner-thoughts of someone who deals with it, somehow, someway.
    Dan S Super Reviewer
  • Oct 11, 2012
    Beautifully filmed, marvelously acted and emotionally resonant, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is an engaging achievement in filmmaking is near the epitome of novel-to-movie adaptations.
    Isaac H Super Reviewer
  • May 24, 2012
    Julian Schnabel's THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY is an intimate drama that features not only an emotionally-engaging character at its core - a paralyzed man who learns to communicate with only one eye en route to miraculously and painstakingly managing to write an autobiography (true story) - but also a strong and bold visual style amidst an admirable and important subject matter - the impact and reality of suffering a stroke, its frightening possibilities, as well as the resiliency of overcoming such an accident. Mathieu Amalric delivers a fine performance as Jean-Dominic Bauby and impresses with his ability to capture the life of a paralyzed man by conveying emotions only through one eye. Amalric nails this difficult task and immediately connects viewers to his character's struggles. Aiding in this task is Janusz Kaminski's evocative and experimental cinematography. The camera often times acts as Bauby's perspective by taking on a first-person point of view - Kaminski captures this effectively by modifying the look to match the character's impaired vision; it mimics the character as it also cries, blinks, blurs, and moves. It is impressive work, and strongly complements the powerful story that Schnabel successfully tells. As admirable as all this may be, however, not much really happens in this film. Yes, it is a heartfelt story of a man fighting to cope, and yes, it contains delicate themes, but just because a film consists of important real-life issues and stirring based-on-true-event stories does not automatically mean it is a great one. By looking past this heavy topic, one may realize that Schnabel's film suffers from a narrative structure that proves to be too stinted and, well, too boring. It is a film that is purposely built around its repetition, which ends up being both its strength and weakness - it expresses the hardship of Bauby perfectly but prolongs the pace and disrupts the momentum of the film. The various cutaways to imaginative moments of Bauby's thoughts and dreams are fine attempts to break away from the claustrophobic mood that is established, but they don't really say much and in fact feel like pretentious additions by Schnabel to fluff up the importance of his main character. Why not show even more of Bauby's life prior to the accident instead? One would imagine that to know more about who this editor of 'Elle' is would mean to care for him more. For instance, his father is present, but only briefly and without real validity. Yes, the backbone of the story is there - writing an entire book with one eye is quite a feat - but the potential for greatness is unfortunately overlooked, and therefore leaves this admirably-made film, in my opinion, a bit disappointing.
    Sheldon C Super Reviewer
  • Feb 01, 2012
    Terrific! That's the thing I was talking about!
    Lucas M Super Reviewer

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