Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr Viber
Trending On Empire
The Big 2015 Movie Preview
The 50 Best Films Of 2014
Review Of The Year 2014
Subscribe to Empire!
Save up to 63%
Want To Be An Empire Journalist?
We're looking for reporters for the BFI London Film Festival
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

Click poster to enlarge
More posters to select

Mathieu Amalric
Emmanuelle Seigner
Max Von Sydow.
Julian Schnabel.
Ronald Harwood.
Running Time
112 minutes

4 Star Empire Rating
2 Star Empire Rating
2 Star Empire Rating
Intern, The
3 Star Empire Rating
3 Star Empire Rating

5 Star Empire Rating
Man With A Movie Camera
5 Star Empire Rating
Salt Of The Earth, The
5 Star Empire Rating
Song Of The Sea
5 Star Empire Rating
Look Of Silence, The
5 Star Empire Rating

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
The amazing story of one man’s life through a lens

submit to reddit

After suffering a massive stroke, Jean-Dominique Bauby (Amalric), editor-in-chief of French magazine Elle, becomes a victim of ‘locked-in syndrome’. Completely paralysed, without the power of speech, he dictates a book by blinking one eyelid.

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly

When cinema succumbs to illness and disability, we tend to be offered either a disease-of-the-week tearjerker or a high-minded bid for Oscar glory. Rarely does a film offer proof that personal tragedies really can inspire. The Sea Inside was one; The Diving Bell And The Butterfly is another.

In December 1995, a stroke left Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) unable to move anything other than his left eyelid. With an effort of willpower that is almost impossible to imagine, Bauby collaborated with book editor Claude Mendibil (Anne Consigny) on a memoir, dictating pages blink by blink. There was no miracle cure for Bauby, who died two days after his book was published. The miracle is that such a wonderfully wry description of Bauby’s inner world could be translated to the printed page.

Equally extraordinary is how Bauby’s story has reached the screen. Director Julian Schnabel shoots much of the film as if through the left eye of the bed-ridden Bauby. We share the restrictions of his mobility and the frustration this brings. We hear, through voiceover, the words that exist in Bauby’s mind but never pass through his lips.

Occasionally Schnabel offers us external shots of Bauby in his wheelchair with his family and friends. More effective, however, are memory sequences of a fully-fit Bauby shaving his housebound father (Max von Sydow) or visiting Lourdes with an ex-girlfriend. It is a brave but not intimidating approach. Indeed, the visual style itself becomes the key element that allows us to understand and admire the way that Bauby’s mental vivacity (the ‘butterfly’) overcomes his physical limitations (the ‘diving bell’).

A poignant reflection on what it means to be alive and, visually, a true cinematic experience.

Reviewed by Alan Morrison

Write Your Review
To write your review please login or register.

Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
Empire Star Rating

"Hold fast to the human inside of you, and you'll survive."

By the time the end credits have rolled it's easy to forget there were a few funny moments in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly... it is, among many other, more attributable things, one of the most depressing films of recent times, but only because director Julian Schnabel feels the full weight of the subject matter. A sharp, powerful, arresting and deeply moving film. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by movienut707 at 01:37, 15 December 2013 | Report This Post

Le scaphandre et le papillon

It's a powerhouse of a film that shines with life and spirit. It is a vivid, shattering, moving and poignant experience. And, probably, Schnabel's best film. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 05:06, 18 July 2011 | Report This Post

True Original

Emotive and terrifyingly real drama of exactly what being a prisoner in your own body is like ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 18:00, 21 September 2010 | Report This Post

A remarkable, deeply moving account of a mn

A very poignant and unique film, 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' is told from the perspective of a man, Jean-Dominique Bauby, who is suffering from locked-in syndrome and has decided to write a memoir of his life. Based on a true story, it is difficult to find another film as effective in the way it has been shot to allow the audience to almost take the place of Jean-Dominique Bauby, as he is taught how to speak again, as he spends his final days with his family and friends, as he revisits f... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by WhiteRabbit23 at 14:06, 10 August 2009 | Report This Post

think i should probably watch this quite soon... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by shawshank prisoner at 22:14, 08 February 2009 | Report This Post

RE: The Diving Bell And The Butterfly

]I travelled around 50 miles to see this film and I was not disappointed! The cinematography was stunning and the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby was very tragic come the end. Despite this I came out feeling inspired to make more of life, I think that is the message of the film. ... More

Posted by forbidden_planet at 15:37, 12 January 2009 | Report This Post

RE: The Diving Bell And The Butterfly

This is an absolutely amazing and brilliant film, highly recommended to watch. The book is very beautiful too. ... More

Posted by Mikaboshi at 10:47, 12 January 2009 | Report This Post

RE: The Diving Bell And The Butterfly

Saw this earlier and what a brilliant piece of work it is. ... More

Posted by pete c at 10:12, 12 January 2009 | Report This Post

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly

The only film of Schnabel's I'd seen prior to this was Basquiat which I found totally self-indulgent and absolutely hated, but I found this to be amazing, several leagues ahead of Basquiat in every way.   The cast were uniformly excellent, hopefully after Quantum Of Solace Mathieu Amalric will finally become a star of the stature he deserves, more than honourable mentions to Emanuelle Seigner and Max Von Sydow as well (and Marlon Brando bsp; Janusz Kaminski's cinematography really st... More

Posted by Indio at 23:12, 05 October 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Moving Diving Bell

Wow... A truly amazing film. It is in places heartbreaking, as you would expect from the subject matter, yet also manages to have moments of hilarity and joy. As has been said it is a film to inspire and make you realise how great life really is. 5/5 from me.   ... More

Posted by az_ at 16:54, 16 September 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Moving Diving Bell

A moving and inspiring account of one man's experience with the horror of "locked-in syndrome". Director Schnabel and screenwriter Harwood do a splendid job of externalising and visualising Bauby's inner monologue, whislt Almaric invests the character with dignity and spirit. Excellent, thought-provoking cinema. (8/10) ... More

Posted by MOTH at 10:15, 18 July 2008 | Report This Post

Moving Diving Bell

A brilliant, life affirming movie. Well written, acted, and directed. Good have been contrived but is instead a moving, realistic portrait of stroke victims. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 00:20, 03 July 2008 | Report This Post

A really heartbreaking, bold, beautiful and moving picture. Amazing. One of the best foreign films I've ever seen. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 21:24, 13 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: The Diving Bell And The Butterfly

r: Schnabel riter: Harwood g:u Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Max von Sydow sd on the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby (Amalric), the late editor of Elle Magazine who suffered a stroke, which lead him with an totally paralyzed body; except for his left eye. /b] During the time when Jean-Dominique Bauby had locked-in syndrome, he decided to write a memoir of his entire life. With the help of an amanuensis repeatedly recited a frequency-order... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by R W at 15:51, 22 March 2008 | Report This Post

Proper fucking cinema ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by parttimepunk at 02:08, 08 March 2008 | Report This Post

Truly captivating experience!

Saw it last saturday and thought it was magnificent. These are my thoughts: Everything that I will write about this film will do no justice to it. You just have to this. This is the emotionally gripping, based on true events story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor of fashion magazine Elle. When he becomes fully paralysed (except for one eye) after a stroke, he needs to learn everything all over again, including communicating. Together with the hospital crew he learns to communicate by... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheGodfather at 17:55, 25 February 2008 | Report This Post

re: diving bell is amazing

100% in agreeance with all who have written so far. amazing film, remarkably touching and vivid. have not felt as engrossed in a film in a long time. Definitely the best foreign film i have ever seen and definitely in my top 5 ever - it brings you back to earth, makes you realise how lucky you are and how important it is to appreciate every day. An experience not to forget and one that leaves you pondering for days, not minutes, after it has finished. Odd to see empire only gave it 4 stars! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ajb223 at 00:14, 21 February 2008 | Report This Post


I bought the book on which this film is based at Fopp in Nottingham yesterday and read over half of it while waiting for my friend to arrive for a night out. The book is amazing and then I saw the film this afternoon... It's a beautiful film that is incredibly moving. Schnabel has changed the order of the book but it works so well. I really can not recommend this film highly enough - I would go as far to say that it will probably be the best film of 2008, because the quality of it is ... More

Posted by losthighway at 19:50, 17 February 2008 | Report This Post


I had put off seeing this film as I had been concerned that a film about a man suffering from locked-in syndrome dictating his memoirs by blinking his eye would be mawkish, overly sentimental and frankly dull.  How wrong I was!  The film was one of the most inventive and intelligent films I have seen in recent years.   Ronald Harwood's script is fundamental to the success of this film.  His decision to tell the story from Jean-Dominique Bauby's perspective is inspired an... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Groovy Mule at 22:51, 16 February 2008 | Report This Post


To make a film about a man trapped in his body and not only make it work, but turn it into one of the most memorable films ever, is nothing short of genius . Opening with an extended blurry point-of-view sequence (about twenty minutes or so) was a brave move; unable to speak, we hear Bauby's (Almaric) confused thoughts as he first tries to get a grip on what's happening, and then his realisation of the private hell he'll be subjected to. To make matters worse (and where this manages to find humo... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moviemaniac2 at 17:17, 16 February 2008 | Report This Post

Jessica Chastain On The Martian
On becoming an astronaut and rescuing Matt Damon AGAIN

My Movie Life: Justin Kurzel
The Macbeth director on how Rocky changed his life and the worst ever date movie

Life On Mars: Trips To The Red Planet
A dozen of cinema's Martian misadventures

Hallowed Ground: Folk Horror In British Film
Ten tales from our island's dark past

All Hail Macbeth! The Scottish Play On Film
By the pricking of our thumbs, ten adaptations this way come(s)

Licence Denied: The Bond Themes You Didn't Get To Hear
A dozen of 007's greatest misses

10 Star Wars: The Force Awakens Toys You’ll Want To Own
Falcon quad copter? BB-8 Sphero? We’re already asking for pay raises…

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Empire print magazine

Delivered to your door – with exclusive subscriber only covers each month! Save money today and

Subscribe now!

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Empire digital magazine

Exclusive and enhanced content – get instant access via your iPad or Android device! Save money today and

Subscribe now!

Subscribe now and save up to 63%
Print, Digital & Package options available Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire Digital Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  Digital Edition  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)