The Diving Bell and The Butterfly
What is empathy? And what makes a great empathy film? Perhaps one in which the medium itself creates an empathetic experience - puts you inside someone else's metaphorical shoes. The Diving Bell and the Butterly - based on the true story of how former French fashion editor Jean-Dominique Bauby learnt to communicate using only one eye after he was paralysed by a stroke - achieves this by using one of the basics of film grammar: the point of view shot. While adapting the book, screenwriter Ronald Harwood conceived the idea that the film should lock the viewer into Bauby's experience by trapping us inside his body, so that for most of the film we see what he sees - quite literarlly as he would see it. The camera lens, in fact, functions as Bauby's only working eyeball. His eyelids the camera's shutter. Whenever he blinks, we fade out. It's never quite been done like that before. One thinks of Abel Gance's groundbreaking point of view sequence in his 1927 epic, Napolean. One thinks of the moment in Vertigo when Hitchcock puts us in Jimmy Stewart's seat as he follows Kim Novak around San Francisco. One thinks of the cross-hairs of countless sniper films. Only one other film has come close to putting us inside the point of view, Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich. Yet even in Malkovich, even when we are inside Malkovich, we are not inside the person inside Malkovich. This makes it, by my reckoning, a unique achievement in the history of cinema. And a must see for all you serious empathophiles.