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THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY AND CLOVERFIELD

I hadn’t expected to watch these movies back to back and certainly hadn’t intended to write about them together.  However, the first outcome led inextricably to the second.

Cloverfield is the latest film in the Godzilla heritage of cities attacked by mysterious monsters, large enough to consider buildings little more than a hindrance to their walking pleasure and impervious to all manner of firepower despite, in this case, no obvious armor or defenses.  Beyond that basic formula, Cloverfield will owe its success to two gimmicks that haven’t been used this well since The Blair Witch Project shattered records and egos eight years ago: Simulated handheld footage from a supposedly found camcorder and an effective viral marketing campaign based on teasers but little imagery.  Indeed, even the title is the outcome of an internal codename that caught on so effectively that it made no sense to change it.

By comparison, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et le Papillon) is an exercise in cinematic intimacy.  Set largely within the mind of the protagonist, it is the true story of a magazine editor who suffered a debilitating stroke that left him unable to communicate with the world except for the movement of one eyelid.  This sounds so unlikely that it seems like the premise for a twisted filmmaking parody, yet the film succeeds as an extraordinary tale of triumph over extreme adversity.  We watch in amazement as his entire world is controlled and defined by things as profound as his paralysis and as arbitrary as the television channels that are selected by those who pass through his room.

What struck me about the two films together was that The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was by far the more frightening of the two, despite Cloverfield’s obvious attempt to thrill and scare its young audience.  Realistically, for those of us more chronologically gifted than Cloverfield’s target demographic, the idea of serious medical emergencies is significantly more horrifying than eminent domain-seeking aliens intent on a little urban renewal.   And even when comparing first-person points of view, limited camera movement designed to mimic a paralyzed eye is far more chilling than the Dramamine-inspired angles of a fleeing partygoer’s home video. 

Much like Away From Her’s excellent consideration of dementia and Sicko’s investigation of the health care industry, Diving Bell will leave you fearing every headache, mentally drafting your living will, and wondering how the story might have changed if it hadn’t occurred in France, where the therapists seemed honored to work with such a challenging patient.

For cheap thrills watch Cloverfield.  For true horror (and remarkable insight) experience The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

-Anthony Sheppard
tony@retrocrush.com

 

 

 

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