Le scaphandre et le papillon

  • Directors: Julian Schnabel
  • Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Jon Kilik
  • Writers: Memoir, Jean Dominique Bauby, Screenplay, Ronald Harwood
  • Genres: Biography, Drama
  • Actors: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Anne Consigny, Max Von Sydow

The film is told entirely from the restricted point of view of Bauby, as he wakes from his three-week coma in a hospital in Berck, France. A neurologist explains that he has locked-in syndrome, an extremely rare condition in which the patient is almost completely physically paralyzed, but remains mentally normal. At first, the viewer primarily hears Bauby’s thoughts, which are inaccessible to the other characters, and sees through his one functioning eye.

A speech therapist and physical therapist try to help Bauby become as functional as possible. Bauby cannot speak, but he develops a system of communication with his speech therapist by blinking his left eye as she reads a list of letters to spell out his messages, letter by letter.

Gradually, the film’s restricted point of view broadens out, and the viewer begins to see Bauby from ‘outside’, in addition to experiencing incidents from his past, as well as his fantasies, in which he imagines beaches, mountains, The Empress Eugénie, and a large feast. It is revealed that Bauby had been editor of the popular French fashion magazine Elle, and that he had a deal to write a book. He decides that he will still write a book, using his slow and exhausting communication technique. A woman from a publishing house with which Bauby has a book contract is hired to take dictation.

Bauby eventually completes his memoir and hears the critics’ responses to it. However, he dies of pneumonia shortly after the publication.

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