Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cerebral Courage

Last night, wanting to check out a few more Academy Award-nominated movies prior to the Oscar telecast on Sunday, we saw the "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."

This beautiful film (in French with subtitles) is the memoir of Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor of the magazine Elle, after he suffers a "cerebral accident" (perhaps described as a massive stroke) in his early 40s and is diagnosed with Locked-In Syndrome -- in which he is able to hear and understand but is mute and completely paralyzed except for the ability to blink.

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is based on Bauby's book of the same name (in French: "Le scaphandre et le papillon") which he dictated by blinking when the correct letter was stated to him.

The film was directed by Julian Schnabel, who also brought to the screen another lyrical bio-pic, the wonderful "Before Night Falls."

The Oscar nomination and other accolades Schnabel has received are well-deserved. "Diving Bell" brings home the reality of this medical condition in a poetic way but without becoming overly sentimental.

I thought Schnabel did an especially nice job of connecting "Jean-Do" to the history of the seaside hospital where he was treated. The hospital was founded in he mid-1800s by Empress Eugenie, wife of Napolean III. Eugenie enters Jean-Do's imagination and becomes one of the characters of his existence.

As I watched the film, I kept wondering what I would do if I was trapped inside my own brain, unable to speak and express myself easily. Would I pray a lot? Simply give up?

Or, would I have the determination to communicate with others (and even write a book!) by painstakingly blinking out letter combinations?

Would you?

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