A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this subtitled French drama offers a fairly sophisticated, though repetitive, look at a single paralyzed character's point of view. The camera takes his very limited perspective (through one eye) and shows his lusty fantasies and flashbacks (which include some passionate tongue kissing). There are repeated shots of cleavage and women's bottoms, as well as both bare breasts and buttocks (and, in one non-sexual scene, male genitals). In voice-over narration, the main character talks about his lack of mobility and active imagination, including his desires for sex and, occasionally, death.
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What's the story?
At the start of THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), receives devastating news as he's emerging from a coma: The Elle France editor has suffered a devastating stroke at the age of 43, effecting his "locked-in syndrome" -- complete immobility accompanied by complete comprehension. Julian Schnabel's movie follows the outline of Bauby's memoir, recounting his former playboy life while reckoning with his current condition. The former editor's only means of communication is his left eye, which he can still blink.
Is it any good?
Warpy wide angles and smudgy pastels emulate Bauby's disorientation, earning Schnabel directing awards at Cannes and the Golden Globes. While the approach is artful, it's also gimmicky. It can be tedious when the compositions suggest Bauby's subjective view of women's bodies, but the shifts between past and present -- as when Bauby remembers shaving his aging father (Max von Sydow) -- serve up some tender memories, in which the son now recognizes his own present. As he watches his own children playing at the beach, Bauby finally understands how important it is to share feelings with loved ones. Feeling reduced now to a "zombie," denied what he most wants -- sensual pleasures and connections -- he's angry and grateful at once. That gap is the movie's most affecting dilemma, unresolved by aesthetic effects.
Baudy's perspective is rendered through from point-of-view framing and a voice over indicating his feisty sarcasm and occasional self-pity. On meeting speech therapist Henriette (Marie-Josée Croze), his reaction is flirtatious in his own mind. "Am I in heaven?" he muses as the camera lists toward her breasts. She's the one who proposes the dictation system by which he blinks to choose a letter. "My task now," he says, "is to write the motionless travel notes from a castaway on the shores of loneliness."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the media can adopt different perspectives to tell different kinds of stories. How does seeing things from unexpected points of view affect how you feel about characters and their stories? Have you seen any other movies that have a similar point of view to this one? Families can also discuss Bauby's efforts to communicate even when it seems impossible. How do his memories affect his present-day perspective?
- In theaters: November 30, 2007
- On DVD or streaming: April 28, 2008
- Cast: Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josee Croze, Mathieu Amalric
- Director: Julian Schnabel
- Studio: Miramax
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 114 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: nudity, sexual content and some language.
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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