Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

I heard from a friend that there is a movie out about a man who wrote a memoir with an eyelid. Seeing that I'm struggling to write a novel with two hands, I was intrigued.

I recently itched this scratch after dragging my visiting friend Mervyn to the Angelika Theatre on the lower east side to see this French film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly that I'd heard so much and so little about. I prefer it this way; I don't like previews, and would rather venture into a darkening theature not knowing what to expect.

The film is the true story of a journalist that survived a stroke in his 40's, leaving his entire body paralyzed with the exception of his left eyelid. His mind lucid, his memory fully intact, he became a prisoner of this same body that betrayed him. The human blink, something we so take for granted and seldom consider, was his sole form of communication.

A therapist was able to design a system of communication that would allow his paralyzed mouth a voice. He hired a dictator, and used a system to write his memoir, one letter, one blink at a time. The movie did a masterful job of taking you through this excrutiatingly patient process, where one must recite the letters of the alphabet, waiting for the blink that would communicate the letter he wanted to convey. This was the method he used to build words, string sentences, construct paragraphs, and eventually, weave his life story.

It's an astouding, moving and emotionally wrenching story. From my first blink to my last, I was totally enthralled with the narration. The director really made you feel what he was feeling: the confusion, the humor, the frustration, the immesurable pain. I don't think I really even breathed a full breath the entire time; the movie kept stealing it. I didn't sit back in my seat once, found that I'd leaned in the entire time.

When the theatre spit me back out into the world, I was shaken up inside; like a cherry tree shaken of its cherries, it will harvest many more.Without a doubt it is a worthwhile movie for writers in particular to see. It made me think of all the luxuries I afford myself as a writer--the Rachmoninoff, the Evian, my favorite pen, the correct font, the right kind of comfort, the infitnite revisions.

What is it to dictate your life one letter at a time? I cannot imagine that magnitude of patience, not to mention the mental stamina to hold this thing in your mind with very minimal revision. The revisionist I am, I never considered revision such an enormous luxury until now; I don't know where my writing would be without it.

I found this movie a celebration of many things: the power of the human imagination, the resiliency of the human spirit, and the inevitability of the human story's journey into the world, no matter the obstacles.

I'd been struggling with my novel lately (what else is new?); I've even had the audacity to call these past few weeks hard. After seeing this movie I am reminded that I have no idea what that word means; it was just the kick in the ass I needed to brush myself off and fight!

I approached my novel the day after the butterfly with a more mindful approach, a fresh apprecation for all of the blessings that are within my reach; my Rachmoninoff on loop, my Evian bottle at my side, Google at my fingertips, my lightning fast fingers and yes, the molasses of my mind.