Think of A Clockwork Orange’s Malcolm McDowell pinned to his seat ready for reprogramming, scratched corneas and all... Of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke slowly drowning in a goldfish bowl of millennial panic in the ‘No Surprises’ video. Then think again. Because when all-but-paralysed stroke victim Jean- Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) opens his one working eye to an anonymous hospital room, concerned faces and doctors’ flashlights searing the screen, the audience is never allowed to forget that this really happened.
Holding the opening POV shot for an excruciating 12 minutes, Julian Schnabel’s defiant, humanistic award-winner sees artistry and verisimilitude collide with unforgettable results. Forced to watch his second eye sewn up in unflinching close-up, Bauby’s fears become our fears, his frustrations our frustrations, until we, too, feel imprisoned inside his useless body.
Taught to blink the alphabet by his speech therapist Marie-Josée Croze, Bauby begins to write the memoir this film is based on, letter by awful letter. His life of irresponsibility and privilege reset to zero, the former Elle editor finds himself “reporting back from somewhere no one has ever reported back from before” as Schnabel says in the incisive Making Of. It’s an awe-evoking story, pitiless but empathetic; a testament to the fact that a man held hostage in his own body can still scale mental Everests. Amid the exemplary extras, Schnabel’s faltering commentary finds him entranced by the spell weaved by his film. You will be, too.