I think it is most people’s biggest fear to one day wake up and realize that you can no longer communicate or move your body, but your mental awareness is still present. In the mid-nineties this happened to a prominent editor and author, Jean-Dominique Bauby. Through his ability to rally and learn how to communicate using only the blinking of one eye, he was able to write his memoir which was published only a couple of days before his death. His accomplishment through extremely difficult circumstances is enough to inspire a biography movie of his life. Or does it?
For the first half of the movie, we see everything from Bauby’s perspective. We acclimate ourselves to his condition and seeing this disease from inside of the brain instead of just its physical manifestations. This is fascinating stuff. We watch one of his eyes getting sown up, we hear his frustration over his inability to communicate simple things like leaving the television on as the nurse is taking her leave and we see the world in only a cocked eyed way. Unfortunately the perspective shifts and we go outside of his body and into his hospital room for the rest of the film. This is where the movie starts to get a little dull. It is shot incredibly and full of gorgeous yet showy images and the story is solid, but the characters surrounding Bauby just lie there flat on the screen. These characters are almost universally women. He has a woman physical and speech therapist, he has his ex-wife, and he pines after a lover that doesn’t show her face in the hospital but lives in his dreams. These women are uniformly beautiful and eager to please this Bauby that everyone has been talking about. This leads to women sort of posing in the way the model flashback did for the first movie. I got really hung up on the fact that everyone but Bauby in the movie looks like a supermodel instead of a therapist. However once I started researching this film and I googled the director’s name, I can see why only the most drop dead yet vacant super models populate this movie. In every image of himself, Julian Schnabel is seen holding on for dear life onto a super model. Who that super model is not important, but the fact that an old man like Schnabel (He is 62.) is obsessed with having his picture with a supermodel is. Instead of gathering hopefuls from the wealth of amazing French actresses, he chose to use this movie as a convenient excuse to choose from a bunch of models to date. So these supporting performances are nothing more than a parade of exceptionally hot women with little personality. It is frustrating that these women would be such cardboard cut outs.
While the women who surround him are infinitely dull, we are not universally shafted by the supporting players. Max von Sydow plays Bauby’s father who is stuck in his apartment because of his mobility. He is in a total of two scenes and they are the most touching and best acted scenes in the whole movie. He is able to bring such a frailty and vulnerability that it stands out as the best performance in the film by far. (That includes Matheiu Amalric who plays Bauby. His performance is impressive from a technical point of view but there is no emotions attached to his choices because he is either seen in flashback where he is playing an idealized version of himself and is therefore boring or he is a vegetable.)
This movie is an interesting hodgepodge of obvious choices and surprising moments that take your breath away. I still don’t know if I liked the movie or I hated it.