This is the true story of Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), who was stricken, out of the blue and in the prime of life, with “locked-in syndrome” which rendered him completely unable to move except to blink an eye (his other eye had to be sealed shut). With the help of caring nurses he painstakingly dictated a book, making words by blinking through the alphabet and stopping when he reached the letter he wanted. This French film is based upon the memoir he blinked out, but its true subject is the human mind’s resilience.
I heard Arthur C. Clarke in a rebroadcast interview on the occasion of his passing a few weeks ago say that “Being completely wheelchaired does not stop my mind from roaming the universe”; likewise, Bauby’s mind compensated for his locked-in syndrome by generating sense-experiences spun from his vast explorations in literature, poetry, film, history—refracted visions of Brando and Ozymandias, Graham Greene and Balzac. Empress Eugénie came to him in the night, offering comfort.
The director is Julian Schnabel, and his filmmaking reflects his painter’s eye for form and line and color. He places the camera in Bauby’s head so that we experience how intolerably claustrophobic was the condition to which he awoke, trapped in his own head with his reverberating thoughts—which, amazingly, are amusing (in a caustic sort of way). (The tone of this film is much more earthy than sentimental).
Max Von Sydow has a small but wrenching part as Bauby’s father. The well-chosen, evocative soundtrack features songs by Tom Waits and Joe Strummer.
Key to ratings:
***** (essential viewing)
*** (worth a look)
- Apr 11, 2008