Empathy: One Blink at a Time

At first, all we see are blurred images and sporadic darkness. Then, we realize that we are looking through the eye of a man who is coming out of a coma. We hear his thoughts, vaguely see the frantic doctors observing him, and realize that he (we) cannot speak. We cannot move.

This first-person viewpoint through the camera lens is as real as it gets. Although it conjures up a sense of claustrophobia, this is the most effective way to create empathy in the moviegoer.

Director Julian Schnabel’s masterpiece is all about empathy – empathy for a man who once had it all as the editor of the French ELLE magazine and then saw it disappear when he suddenly contracted “locked-in syndrome.” Perfectly conscious but completely paralyzed, he can only communicate by blinking once for “yes” and twice for “no.”

The man we cinematically embody is the real life Jean-Dominique Bauby (played by a sincere Mathieu Amalric), who wrote what would have been an un-filmable memoir in 1996 until Schnabel took it into his own hands. Schnabel wisely intersperses flashbacks in the third person of the successful and mobile Bauby throughout the film. Now, we see a self-indulgent man who parades a mistress behind his wife and kids. We observe him with models, set designs, and all the glamour that wrapped around him until locked-in syndrome wrapped around everything.

Later, Bauby is left with nothing but the will of an eye to ask forgiveness from his family, his friends, and himself. He does it one blink at a time. Bauby’s torso is unmoving like a diving bell under water, but his imagination can still flutter like a butterfly.

I have never seen a film like this in my blessed life of movie fascination. We can read all we want about paraplegia, stroke, and paralysis, and we can try our best to imagine the experience.

Director Schnabel puts us right there, giving us the most physical and emotional opportunity to empathize as a viewer. This is one of the most beloved movies I have ever seen.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) *****

Have you seen it? Please feel free to comment and Happy Moviegoing!

11 thoughts on “Empathy: One Blink at a Time

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    1. I’ll check it out! Thank you! Yeah, this one is too overlooked. I was the only one in the small indie theatre when it was first released. What an experience…


  1. I have seen it and it’s an admirable piece of cinematic story, wonderfully played by Amalric (who unfortunately I will always associate with the mediocre Bond villain he played later on). The movie is really great – though tough to watch at times and quite unsentimental, it’s in fact a paean to life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading. It was nice to revisit this gem. And, yes – unsentimental for sure, which I think is the correct approach. Otherwise, it might have come off corny, forced, and insincere. Best to you. Please let me know how I can officially follow your blog. It wouldn’t take me email…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re very welcome 🙂 I enjoy your posts, they are thoughtful and often about movies I find important to me personally 🙂

        Huh, that’s strange. We have some people following us through email, alternatively you can try to click the follow button on our page (under category cloud on the right-hand side) or just follow through my name on your followers list 🙂 Good luck! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I am officially a “follower.” Thank you for the kind words. I am astonished by how much you have achieved in your blog. There is so much to discover, but for now, I’m very interested in The Passage. I realize it came out in 2010, but its The Road-esque, post-apocalyptic setting is right up my alley, and the fact that it follows a female power lead is all the better! I need one more fun book before my school preparations begin, and I think this will be the one! Keep writing 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Congratulations! 😀 And you’re very welcome, those are fully deserved 🙂 And thank you! 🙂
            The Passage is intriguing and I remember I enjoyed reading it – though I must warn you that this is the first part of a trilogy and while I read the second book (which irritated me greatly due to overabundance of used tropes) I DNFed the third… If you’re looking for post-apo with strong female lead and like a bit of zombie/horror to your mix, I can recommend The Girl with All The Gifts – definitely more of the defying-the-expectations kind 🙂
            Will do! 😀

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Just added Girl with All the Gifts to my cart! Looks great! And, they made it into a movie? I remember seeing the movie promo image on Amazon not too long ago but never saw the movie. I’ll read it first and go from there. I am very excited for this one! Thanks again!

              Liked by 1 person

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