Far too often, though, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly feels grotesquely calculated, especially the more Schnabel ratchets up the inspirational platitudes of exactly the sort that Bauby--who maintained an acerbic sense of humor about his situation until the very end--would have despised.
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Schnabel, screenwriter Ronald Harwood and Spielberg's great cinematographer Janusz Kaminski have found a way to take us inside Bauby's mind--his memories, his fantasies, his loves and lusts--transforming a story of physical entrapment and spiritual renewal into exhilarating images.
Schnabel’s movie, based on the calm and exquisite little book that Bauby wrote in the hospital, is a gloriously unlocked experience, with some of the freest and most creative uses of the camera and some of the most daring, cruel, and heartbreaking emotional explorations that have appeared in recent movies.
The film is a masterpiece in which “locked-in” syndrome becomes the human condition.
Every performer in the international cast -- Seigner, de Bankole, von Sydow (magnificent as Bauby's father), and the late Jean-Pierre Cassel to name but a few -- completely disappears into each of their roles, which I think is as much a testament to Schnabel's talents as to theirs.
Most compelling in its attempts to re-create the experience of paralysis onscreen, gorgeously lensed pic morphs into a dreamlike collage of memories and fantasies, distancing the viewer somewhat from Bauby's consciousness even as it seeks to take one deeper.
The most beautiful movie ever made about a man who could only move one eyelid -- almost dangerously beautiful.
In a film that overwhelmingly avoids happy-faced pronouncements, this one sticks out.
The movie will wipe you out. Schnabel's previous two films (Basquiat, Before Night Falls) also focused on artists. But this is his best film yet, a high-wire act of visual daring and unquenchable spirit.
Schnabel's sleepy, drifty, at times morbidly funny film tackles something more ambitious, by getting into the head of someone who's trying to get out of there himself.