Book: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death


Extract from Jean-Dominique Bauby's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is witty, lyrical, and poignant. Bauby notes that since he could no longer eat in the normal way, he had to dine in his head, imagining himself enjoying beef bourguignon, apricot pie, or even a simple soft-boiled egg. Since he could not speak to his ninety-three year old father, Jean-Dominique's father called him on the phone and spoke to him. When he was finally able to sit in a wheelchair, Bauby was taken to the sea where he admired the colorful umbrellas, the beautiful seascape, and the lovely sailboats. He was destined to live the remainder of his life one step removed from reality, but, in his mind, this was better than not living life at all. Jean-Dominique Bauby lived to see his book published before he died in 1997. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is an inspiring testament to the indomitable spirit of a very remarkable man.

In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor-in-chief of French Elle, the father of two young childen, a 44-year-old man known and loved for his wit, his style, and his impassioned approach to life. By the end of the year he was also the victim of a rare kind of stroke to the brainstem. After 20 days in a coma, Bauby awoke into a body which had all but stopped working: only his left eye functioned, allowing him to see and, by blinking it, to make clear that his mind was unimpaired. Almost miraculously, he was soon able to express himself in the richest detail: dictating a word at a time, blinking to select each letter as the alphabet was recited to him slowly, over and over again. In the same way, he was able eventually to compose this extraordinary book. By turns wistful, mischievous, angry, and witty, Bauby bears witness to his determination to live as fully in his mind as he had been able to do in his body. He explains the joy, and deep sadness, of seeing his children and of hearing his aged father's voice on the phone. In magical sequences, he imagines traveling to other places and times and of lying next to the woman he loves. Fed only intravenously, he imagines preparing and tasting the full flavor of delectable dishes. Again and again he returns to an "inexhaustible reservoir of sensations," keeping in touch with himself and the life around him. Jean-Dominique Bauby died two days after the French publication of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. This book is a lasting testament to his life. "From the Trade Paperback edition.

Title: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

  • » Butterfly Drawings Butterfly Facts Says:

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  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) - IMDb

    In December 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby, a French magazine editor, suffered a sudden and crippling stroke that threw him into a coma for nearly three weeks. Upon awakening in a hospital in Breck-sur-Mar, he found that his body was nearly entirely paralyzed. His thoughts were coherent, and he could move his eyes, but he was otherwise immobile. This rare condition, called locked-in syndrome, ensured that the only way he could communicate was through blinking (soon, he was down to one eye, as the other, more affected by the incident, was unusable after the eyelid was sewn shut to keep it from going septic). By using an alphabet listed by frequency of letter, he could blink when another person reading out the letters arrived the one he wanted to use, and through this slow process, he could formulate words. This is how he wrote his memoirs – one blink at a time, until it was done. The result was The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, published mere days before his death on March 9, 1997.

    The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is wonderful stuff. Amalric’s performance is compelling, both in past and present tense, despite spending the latter in a hospital bed or wheelchair, face drooped to one side, one eye shut, and only able to speak through an inner monologue. Seinger is not to be discredited either, convincing as Céline, determined to support Jean-Do no matter what. However, the top performance is from Max von Sydow, portraying Jean-Do’s 92 year old father, who lives on the fourth floor of an apartment building with no elevator, and unable to navigate the stairs. He knows what it is like to be locked in as well, and in a late scene, where he and his son’s only sans-mediator form of communication is this disadvantage, von Sydow’s performance is deeply emotional and unbelievably effective.