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THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (Le scaphandre et le papillon)

THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (Le scaphandre et le papillon)
“Remember to look at the stars, not your feet. As difficult as life may be, there is always something that is possible to do, and in which it is possible to succeed”. Stephen Hawking

“Imagination and memory are the only means I have to escape from my diving bell”.

It is this sentence that prompted me to write a few lines on a very difficult subject but worthy of further study. It is pronounced by the protagonist of the film “The diving bell and the butterfly”, based on the autobiographical novel by Jean-Dominique Bauby.

The story tells us of a man who, upon awakening from a coma (caused by a stroke) that lasted three weeks, is no longer able to move and communicate. The only possibility it has is to control the blinking of the left eyelid.

Suffering from a very rare syndrome called “Locked-In Syndrome” (locked inside, trapped), the man who has lost all motor skills (including the use of speech), is literally a prisoner of his body. This syndrome, which causes quadriplegia, leaves the cognitive system intact and fully functional.

Admitted to a specialized hospital Jean-Dominique, a successful forty-three year old man and in the prime of his life, begins a rehabilitation process and among these professional figures we have that of the Speech therapist. It will be she who will provide the man with an alternative method of communication: the woman reads the letters of the alphabet and when these correspond to those of the word the man wants to pronounce, he closes his eye. Same thing to say Yes or No.

There are many reflections that pushes to make the vision of this film.

Initially the protagonist, realizing the situation in which he finds himself, immediately expresses the request to die.

Subsequently, through the mind of Jean-Dominique, we take an intense journey into his memories, into his past life but also into a profound analysis of the humanity that surrounds him. We discover his ability to ironize about a tragic situation and unexpectedly we are faced with his choice to write a book telling his story.

He tells us about the heavy armor that keeps him imprisoned (the diving bell) and the butterfly that flies free (his mind).

He speaks to us of an inner world in motion unlike his body, terribly still, immobile.

From here other examples come to mind. First of all the astrophysicist Stephen Hawking who, struck by a very serious motor neuron disease at a very young age (which progressively causes the same fate), despite having been given a death sentence shortly after the diagnosis, continued his working life and personal, without ever giving in to the disease.

To return to the film, whose original title is “Le scaphandre et le papillon”, another film comes to mind that has the name of this blog: “Papillon”.

As described in the presentation of the blog, Papillon tells the story of a man who is sent to prison from innocent and will spend his whole life seeking freedom. Furthermore, the word Papillon refers to the image of the butterfly that evokes the thought of a possible human transformation.

Another thought comes overwhelming: in how many situations do we feel prisoners, which even if they cannot be exactly comparable, make us feel helpless? Speaking of this, a psychotherapist friend told me something that struck me a lot: a young girl who grew up in a foster home, when she reached the age of majority, had finally obtained the much desired freedom that she was convinced would be deprived of by the situation in which lived. Once out of the structure that housed her, her statement was “Now that I can do what I want, I can’t even leave the house!”

This example tells us how sometimes that movement necessary to live well and feel truly free has nothing to do with our ability to move the body.

So how important is that inner world, which too often is not taken into consideration and taken care of, in order to be able to cope with the various situations that life puts us in front of?

There are really many things to talk about from various points of view and as I write a word “Resistance” runs through my mind. What does it really mean? What must we resist?

The answer I have found is far from the frequently proposed synonyms “endurance, tolerance”. This would mean never having a choice, it would mean “accept, suffer” anything without having the possibility to express one’s thoughts about it or find a way to rebel.

“Resisting” perhaps means having the ability to carry on one’s ideas by listening to that silent inner world that allows us to remain human, to live even in the face of injustice and suffering.

My work often leads me to confront realities very similar to that described in the story of Jean-Dominique and luckily I have almost always witnessed the reaction of people who, after a traumatic event, had the urge to get back into the game and get rid of their very heavy diving bell to fly like butterflies again.

I could tell you about who has decided to go back to study, who has taken the courage to tell his girlfriend that he loves her, who has understood that he has stolen so much time from his loved ones because of too much work. I meet so many different human beings.

The thing that most comes to me to say in the conclusion of this article is that human life is represented by the ability of our mind to continue “moving” even if our body remains irremediably stationary. Like the protagonist of the film and other well-known characters who, despite the disease of the body, continued their life making their dreams come true. Just continuing to fly like butterflies.

Although difficult and delicate, this issue allows us to affirm therefore that human life begins and ends with the functioning of mental activity.

Valeria Verna


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THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (Le scaphandre et le papillon)
Credits by: Cottonbro
“Remember to look at the stars, not your feet. As difficult as life may be, there is always something that is possible to do, and in which it is possible to succeed”. Stephen Hawking