Friday, February 29, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Book)

"I can weep discreetly. People think my eye is watering." (Jean-Dominique Bauby)

I have to say a got a lot more out of Bauby's book than I did the movie, and have thus had to revise down somewhat my opinion of the latter's overall level of achievement.

Here are some of the bits I felt that the movie omitted:

1) A very particular sense of what Bauby misses from his previous life; such as bathtime: "Armed with a cup of tea or a Scotch, a good book or a pile of newspapers, I would soak for hours, manoeuvring the taps with my toes."

2) The different aptitudes amongst his visitors for eye-lid led communications: "Crossword fans and Scrabble players have a head start. Girls manage better than boys...reticent people are much more difficult. If I ask them, 'How are you?' they answer 'Fine,' immediately putting the ball back in my court."

3) The inner-world of Bauby's sensual imagination: "For pleasure I have to turn to the vivid memory of tastes and smells...a bottle of late vintage Gewurtztraminer, or else I savour a simple soft-boiled egg with fingers of toast and lightly salted butter...deprivation sent me constantly to my imaginary larder."

4) Repartee: "By the time you strike, even you no longer understand what had seemed so witty before you started to dictate it." (This reminded me a bit of V's 'conversation' with Stephen Hawking outside the Cambridge Arts Cinema.)

5) The startling differences between the people that got close to Bauby before and after his stroke. "It is strange to hear my old partner in crime telling Claude about me. My quick temper, my love of books, my immoderate taste for good food, my red convertible - nothing is left out. Like a storyteller exhuming the legends of a lost civilisation." He also notes that it is the people with whom he previously had quite superficial relationships who were most determined to address the really fundamental questions of life with him afterwards.

His sensory limitations were not limited to vision: "My right ear is completely blocked and my left ear amplifies and distorts all sounds farther than ten feet away." The ear of a butterfly, he later notes.

Bauby's recollections of his trip to the races and failure to bet on Mithra-Grandchamp and the unstructured jaunt to Lourdes which became an "on-going mobile domestic crisis" with lover Josephine could have made Bauby's character and relationships much more vivid, had they been worked into the script more completely.

In conclusion, Schnabel gave us a limited window into Bauby's sense of his own condition, but was less successful at capturing the view out from inside this cocoon across the rest of humanity.

And what's with the deep sea diving suit? Is that the correct translation of the French, because in English 'diving bell' is something different.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", but the movie I'd rather see is "My Stroke of Insight", which is the amazing bestselling book by Dr Jill Bolte Taylor. It is an incredible story and there's a happy ending. She was a 37 year old Harvard brain scientist who had a stroke in the left half of her brain. The story is about how she fully recovered, what she learned and experienced, and it teaches a lot about how to live a better life. Her TEDTalk at TED dot com is fantastic too. It's been spread online millions of times and you'll see why!