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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Introduction

The story in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is generally the same in the book and the movie, where a journalist suffers a stroke that leaves him with the ‘locked in’ syndrome and he is mostly physically paralyzed, but mentally healthy. In the movie, a hero is completely unable to move except for blinking his left eye lid, while in the book he could move his head and stretch his limbs a little bit. In the book, he could even sing with his children by the end of the story. Current paper features a book analysis with respect to the author’s experiences and a comparison between the book and the movie.

Analysis

The book is written by Jean-Dominique Bauby as a memoir of his own experiences after the stroke. This means that it is a firsthand account of his outlook on life while at the hospital. With regards to the title, it can be stated that the author picked the best metaphors for his condition; the diving bell is his body, while his mind is a butterfly. A diving bell is a chamber used to transport divers to the desired depths in the ocean. It is not controlled by the divers inside it and as such, they are at the mercy of their tether. The divers are provided with gas from the surface through hose pipes. Just like the diving bell, Bauby relies on other people to keep him bathed, dressed and fed. He can see and hear what is happening around him but he has no control over him. The divers in the diving bell also have absolutely no control over the vessel.

In the book, the author is diagnosed with the ‘locked in syndrome’ after he suffers a stroke. ‘Locked in syndrome’ is a condition in which a person is mentally in control of his/ her faculties but physically unable to move or do anything excpt, perhaps, blink. Their mind is thus considered to be locked in within a body that is completely paralyzed. The symptoms for this condition include the inability to move despite a complete mental alertness. The patient is thus able to see, hear and think but they cannot move or speak and, in some instances, they cannot feel anything at all.

This book has a positive outlook on disability in that despite the fact that Bauby has experienced a catastrophic physical disability, there is nothing mentioned about suicide in the book. The author seems to have come to terms with his condition and is as such already out of the denial and anger phase. He writes this book after learning the communication code and this takes some time after the diagnosis. The reason for not having suicidal thoughts while writing the book is that the author is able to communicate. He is no longer really locked in, as he can express his thoughts and feelings and thus he is more at peace with his condition than he may have been before learning the communication code. If he had not learnt how to express himself, it can be stated that the outcome would have been different as he would be unable to live out of his paralyzed body.

 

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The title fits the story perfectly given that the diving bell and the butterfly are extremely different in character. The diving bell is helpless, relying on those on the ship or at the dock to steer it and supply it with air. The butterfly, on the other hand, is free to fly and explore the world, live in its beauty and cherish the splendid moments. Bauby’s body is paralyzed, but his mind and spirit are free to soar through the world and bring with them such beautiful experiences and memories.

Differences between the Book and the Movie
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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly movie was directed by Julian Schnabel and the script was written by Ronald Harwood. While the story remains the same, the movie was not intended to be a translation of the book into a film. The director simply borrowed some aspects of the book and told his own story based on his experiences with his sick father. As a result, there are a number of differences between the two.

First, in the book the author is very positive. He is going through a tough time but he is strong and in a great mood. While telling the story, he is energetic and only his regrets draw him back at times. In the movie, however, Bauby is represented as a sad suicidal man with far too much a burden. The movie director sets out to exaggerate the suffering of the journalist and even makes him suicidal just to show how frustrated he is at being unable to live his life to the fullest.

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The second major difference is that in the book, the author is mostly bubbly in his anecdotes and random stories about his imaginary trips and excursions. In the movie, the director focuses on presenting the sick man’s sufferings that he neglects his personality. Bauby is mostly seen as sarcastic and bitter with unspoken comments that are given a voice over in the movie. In the book, the author is at peace with his condition and as such is able to appreciate the efforts of those around him. He even appreciates the mother of his children, unlike in the movie where he has her conveying a message of his undying love to his girlfriend who refuses to visit him. A third difference is in the way the author relates with his children. In the book, he sings with them when they visit but in the movie they sing to him, while he watches with teary eyes.

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