Probably everyone of a mature age knows someone who has suffered from a stroke and is aware of the battle necessary to return to normalcy. This film is based upon the struggle of the real Jean-Dominique Bauby who was the editor of French fashion magazine, Elle. Whereas most stroke victims are able to work through physical and speech therapy to regain most, if not all, of their communication skills, Bauby suffered from what is know as Locked-in Syndrome and was never able to achieve more than being able to blink one eye.
By blinking that one eye to indicate a dictated letter of the alphabet, this extraordinary man was able to write a book about his reactions to his locked-in condition.
In the film, his constant support is his wife from whom he had been separated after having a love affair with a mistress. The mistress is depicted as being shallow and unable to support Bauby during the time of his illness. In reality, it was his mistress who was his constant companion in the hospital with his wife only visiting occasionally whenever she brought the children to visit their father. There is an interesting article on salon.com in which Bauby's friends and family are quoted as to the actual events. ( Link )
Whatever the actual details, the film gives an engrossing picture of a man determined to not let his essence be quelled by trauma.
Director, Julian Schnabel uses a technique in which the viewer sees the world through Bauby's eyes. This is - at first - annoying but soon becomes a most effective device in letting us truly experience what it must have been like for Bauby.
In the film, Bauby remembers his last meeting with his father. Mathieu Amalric as Bauby and Max von Sydow as his father provide one of the most memorable scenes I have ever experienced. Schnabel states in the DVD special features that he created this scene as a tribute to his own father. Whether or not it actually happened between Bauby and his own father does in no way lessen its impact.
An inspiring lesson for us all, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a film not to be missed.