Out of a nightmarish medical condition, wisdom

It’s the kind of real-life story that seems impossible (and too terrible) to believe: In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby, the 43-year-old editor of French Elle magazine, suffered a stroke and awoke weeks later suffering from “locked-in syndrome.” This meant that while his brain functioned perfectly, the only way he could communicate was by blinking his left eye . . . which he then used to spell out his memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, one letter at a time. That in itself is amazing. The fact that someone actually managed to make it into an engaging, moving film (in French with subtitles, opening 11/30) is more unbelievable still.

Director Julian Schnabel is a painter, and his artist’s eye is apparent in the film’s cinematography, which is evocative and clever but never self-indulgent. Instead of getting bogged down in tragedy, the film is filled with surprisingly humorous moments, and is a fully serious (but not lugubrious) look at “quality of life,” consciousness, humanity, and death.

WATCH the trailer for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

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