Like his previous films, Basquiat and Before Night Falls, Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly attempts to elevate the middle-brow biopic to the status of high-brow art cinema. Schnabel, an artist and sometimes filmmaker, has carved out a niche for himself crafting visually arresting, loosely conventional movies inspired by the lives of noteworthy artists and writers. In the case of Diving Bell, adapted from a memoir of the same title, the noteworthy individual in question is Jean-Dominique Bauby, an editor of French Elle who was almost completely paralyzed after suffering a massive stroke at the age of 43. Despite his condition, referred to as locked-in syndrome, Bauby eventually learned to communicate by blinking his left eyelid, dictating his memoir to a translator, one letter at a time. It’s a remarkable story, and depending on how you see it, it’s both unadaptable and profoundly cinematic. Diving Bell‘s protagonist is largely immobile and to a certain extent static, but he is also the embodiment of spectatorship, an individual reduced to an eye, an eye reduced to a camera.
Click here to read Chris Wisniewski’s review of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.