The Diving Bell & the Butterfly

“Does it take the harsh light of disaster to show a person’s true nature?”
― Jean-Dominique Bauby

Butterfly Effect, courtesy John Heino Photography. Used with permission.

“Today, my life feels like a string of near-misses. Women I was unable to love, opportunities I failed to seize, moments of happiness I let drift away. A race whose result I knew beforehand but failed to pick the winner. Had I been blind and deaf, or did the harsh light of disaster make me find my true nature?”
~ Jean-Dominique Bauby

Every once in a while a film moves you toward something inexplicably powerful. It’s as if you are a child listening to adults talking about something serious which is beyond your comprehension. It’s something real but you lack the life experience to grasp it, yet you are drawn to understand because there is something profound taking place.

Such, for me, is Jean-Dominique Bauby’s story The Diving Bell & the Butterfly. I wrote this review before having read the book, which later trebled my awe at Bauby’s story. These comments refer to the Golden Globe Award-winning film by the same name. And maybe the epiphany is simply this, that life is an incredible experience, even when tragic.

What is astonishing is that the film is equal to the task of conveying the story, a real man’s reality. Bauby was a French journalist and editor of the fashion magazine Elle. His life consisted of fame and style, wealth and women… a lifestyle others only dream of. Then one day, at age 43, Bauby suffered a stroke that left him victim to what is called “Locked-In Syndrome.” His mental faculties were totally intact but his body paralyzed. Though speechless and immobile, he learned to communicate by blinking a single eyelid.

There are so many beautiful moments in this life-affirming film. Despite the seemingly impossible circumstances, he wrote a memoir by blinking with his one good eye. His assistant would repeat the letters of the alphabet until she reached the letter he wanted, at which point he would blink. It took 200,000 blinks, and immense determination, to complete the memoir.

Image for post
Image for post
Shark tank photo by the author.

Bauby wrote that he had two things that were not paralyzed: his imagination and his memory. Hence, the title of his book. The paralysis made him feel like a man in a diving bell, cut off from the world, floating helpless, remote. But his mind, with the aid of memories and imagination, was like the butterfly, free to explore, taking him away from this seeming death trap imprisonment.

Based on the reviews, his book is evidently well-seasoned with keen insights from a man who had lived life to the full and now recognized that there was still as much yet unseen within us waiting to be discovered, uncovered, revealed.

Originally published at
an insightful review of the film by Bruce Newman, Mercury News.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store