IMDB Top 250: The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (2007)

My mission to watch all of the TOP 250 films in the IMDB site (as of March 22nd) continues…

Among the 8 films I have been able to watch pertaining to my top 250 challenge, none other has left a bigger impression on me as the wonderful french movie “The Diving Bell and The Butterfly” by director Julian Schnabel.

The movie is based on a true story that depicts the horrible fate of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor-in-chief of the French Elle magazine. One day a successful and womanizing business man, and the next a man who has suffered a massive stroke that has rendered him almost completely paralyzed. We meet him at the hospital, struggling to wake up from a coma. Soon, a parade of doctors and nurses hover above him and we realize that he is still a completely rational man who is trapped inside his “diving bell” of a body with only his left eye left to communicate with others. He blinks once to say yes, twice to say no, and repeatedly to express a more specific desire. The viewer spends a good part of the movie inside him looking out, sharing, to some extent, the sense of claustrophobia and helplessness Bauby must have had to endure.

The director, Julian Schnabel, treats the story without grand gestures or manufactured uplifting moments. Schnabel’s effectiveness in this film comes from his simple and honest depiction of great adversity. We get to inhabit Bauby’s paralyzed body, relive some of his memories in order to understand the man before the tragedy, and we take part in the asphyxiating situation he is in. Schnable trusts the power of his story to speak for itself. Bauby is a tragedy but also a triumph since he was able, against all odds, to compose a memoir using only his left eye to blink as a nurse recited the alphabet, painstakingly constructing words.

Of course, the movie would have floundered if it wasn’t for a simply wonderful cast. Mathieu Amalric, whose performance as Bauby, is as complex and accomplished as I have ever seen. Almaric embodies the spirit of a free man who loves life as convincingly as he captures the painful reality of Bauby’s paralysis. His father, played by Max Von Sydow is equally moving and wonderful. The rest of the cast acts in a manner that is so natural and honest that it allows us to forget we are watching a film.
Released in 2007, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly enriched a rare year for movies that was full of quality films. This wonderful French movie greatly deserves its place among the best that year but also among the best films of all time.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (masterpiece)


5 thoughts on “IMDB Top 250: The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (2007)

  1. Hi Niels

    I agree that this is a fantastic film and was one of the best films of the year it was released. Almaric was fantastic and the one feeling I remember when leaving the cinema was one of fear at the prospect of ‘what if that ever happened to me’. The way the film was shot from within Bauby much of the time really added to that sense of fear and chlaustrophobia.

    I think it probably deserves its place as one of the top 250 but do you think it should be higher up the list?


    1. Like you, I have a thing for spreadsheets and numbers. Statistics are always fun, even when it comes to something like movies. In fact, I try to keep an encyclopedia of all the films that I consider great. I have all of these organized by year and director, inspired in part by numerous publications that have grouped together the so-called best films of all time. It has also helped me to remember DVDs that I need to buy in the future, so it is not a total waste of time.
      I also try to keep a collection of what I consider to be the best films by year, and I started in 2007. So, given all of this, I have now situated The Diving Bell and The Butterfly just bellow No Country for Old Men and There Will be Blood, and above films like SuperBad, Elite Squad and Ratatouille for that particular year. Determining what its place should be in history becomes a bit harder for obvious reasons.

      Here is my list of what I consider to be the best films of all-time that I have seen so far in no particular order. They are organized from most recent release date. This list actually inspired my desire to start the top 250 challenge as it’s clear I’m missing a lot of movies that are branded as true masterpieces. It was also quite a challenge to cut some very good movies out, but I am simply trying to make it as selective as possible.

      The King’s Speech
      The Social Network
      Toy Story 3
      District 9
      Up in the Air
      Slumdog Millionaire
      The Hurt Locker
      The Diving Bell and The Butterfly
      Elite Squad
      No Country for Old Men
      There Will be Blood
      Children of Men
      Little Miss Sunshine
      The Departed
      The Last King of Scotland
      The Lives of Others
      Letters from Iwo Jima
      Cinderella Man
      Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind
      Kill Bill: Vol. 2
      Million Dollar Baby
      Finding Nemo
      Lord of the Rings, the return of the king
      Lost In Translation
      Mystic River
      The Pianist
      Big Fish
      City of God
      A Beautiful Mind
      Monsters Inc.
      Training Day
      Requiem for a Dream
      The Green Mile
      The Matrix
      The Sixth Sense
      Saving Private Ryan
      The Big Lebowski
      La Vita e Bella
      12 Monkeys
      Toy Story
      Forrest Gump
      The Lion King
      Pulp Fiction
      The Shawshank Redemption
      Groundhog Day
      Jurassic Park
      Schindler’s List
      Scent of a woman
      Beauty and the Beast
      The Silence of the Lambs
      Terminator 2: Judgement Day
      Who Framed Roger Rabbit
      Full Metal Jacket
      The Untouchables
      Das Boot
      Raiders of the Lost Ark
      Raging Bull
      The Shining
      Kramer vs Kramer
      All of the President’s Men
      Taxi Driver
      Dog Day Afternoon
      The Godfather II
      Robin Hood
      The Godfather
      Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
      Dr. Strangelove
      Mary Poppins
      The Sword in the Stone
      12 Angry Men
      A Man Escaped
      Peter Pan
      Singin’ in the Rain
      All About Eve
      Citizen Kane
      City Lights
      One Week
      The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari


  2. I will give you the TOP 10 once I finish the IMDB challenge. I haven’t seen so many classics (which I’m trying to amend) that I feel like I will fall way short if I give you a list….not to mention it is incredibly difficult to make such a short list.

    I will be starting a new topic on my blog tentatively called “my favorite moments in film history”, which could also be called “my favorite scenes in film” in which I would try to reveal the moments that have always stuck with me after watching some of my favorite films. There might be one or two moments I will touch upon that are not a part of a great movie, but that still shaped my appreciation for the art of movie-making. I would appreciate if you give me your opinion on which title to pick for my new theme.

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