The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is one of those films whose technical mastery I can admire but failed to really grab me.

Julian Schnabel has created and interesting, unique, and innovative film exploring the experience of a man locked into his own mind, able to communicate with only an eyelid. For roughly the first half of the film, we see only what Jean-Dominique Bauby, the unfortunate cripple, sees. This means a limited, often unfocused and confusing view from one eye. It’s a very neat concept and we can really feel Bauby’s initial bewilderment. These are paired with some beautifully-shot fantasy sequences. Janusz Kaminski scored a well-deserved Best Cinematography Oscar nomination for his work. The view from the one eye was probably my favorite part of the movie and I think it lost some punch when eventually the view pulls away and we see Bauby as an outside observer.

I also applaud the script, which picked up a nod for Best Adapted Screenplay. Bauby is a large character despite having nothing but his thoughts and imagination. He’s quick with a witty quip (in his mind) and blinks out cynical messages to his caretakers. I found him to be a surprisingly complex guy, with complicated relationships with his wife, children, mistress, father, and colleagues, which all play out fairly interestingly in front of his frozen face.

So The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has a lot of components I like and admire, but it still left me rather cold. I think I just didn’t care much about Bauby. He’s not always a sympathetic figure. One would think that having all that time left with nothing but his own thoughts would result in some self inspection, but apparently not since he still manages to treat gruffly the family he left pre-stroke. And it’s not that I demand sympathetic characters, but I should care about their fates. I didn’t care too much about Bauby and wasn’t really affected by his death. It struck me as an interesting story but one that didn’t grab me emotionally. That’s probably not the film’s fault, just a matter of personal taste. But it is what it is and as such The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a film I liked but did not love.

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