Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Ballad of Ricky Bauby

In the days since seeing The Diving Bell And The Butterfly (which EVERYONE should see) I've thought about little else. The tale is harrowing, but the execution brims with so much life and humor that it avoids all the usual pitfalls of bio-tragedies. Every true-to-life tale of woe claims to be life-affirming; here's one that actually is.

The reason it feels so genuine is the droll, very black sense of humor at the core of Jean-Do Bauby. It's absolutely true that people in these situations don't necessarily stop being themselves, or suddenly epitomize the tragedies that have befallen them. That's a dramatic trope more than a celebration of an actual life. So the guy had a stroke and was paralyzed... suddenly nothing's funny anymore?

Look at the telephone installers' joke. The therapist on duty chides them for having a laugh at Bauby's expense, but Bauby is in fact laughing (on the inside of course) at the cheap shot he's absorbed. Because it's funny!

It is to the great credit of Ronald Harwood, Julian Schnabel, Bauby himself, and their collective observational abilities that their movie courses with the most ironic and biting of humors, when it could have so easily devolved into a maudlin exercise in self-seriousness. I have a great deal of respect for their handling of the source material.

Anyway, Diving Bell can't be more highly recomended. I'll have more honors to bestow on it later, but until then I implore you to go see it... if for no other reason than because you'll then know what the hell I'm about to talk about.

You see, since seeing the film, I've been working on an impression of Jean-Do. This is largely out of appreciation, mind you; recall that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But it's also to amuse myself, much as I had the habit of growling the word DRAIIIIINAGE to myself to pass the time as recently as... ten seconds ago. [Ed. note: SUP SUP SUP SUP SUP SUP SUP... I DRRRRRRINK IT UP!]

Anyway, I haven't done impressions in God knows how long, so I'm really excited about getting this one down. Even while writing this, I've managed to achieve a workable drool. I've nearly got the grunt under control too, but I'm not too worried about that.

The problem is that my eye and face just doesn't look right. I can't sculpt my face into the right pose. It's really hard! If you think you've read one review too many that lauds Mathieu Amalric's ocular acting skills, think again, because that eye of his deserves all the attention it's gotten. Amalric channels the concerned/horrified stare of the drama marmot perfectly. Check out this still:

Look how placid and folded-up the face is... but the eye alone bulges with fear, almost bursting out of its socket? That's hard! I have the strength of reaction down, but it makes its way out onto the rest of the face, so I end up looking like this guy:

Bitter Locked-In Syndrome Face!

I'm a little better when I use the right side of my face, since I'm able to raise my right eyebrow independent of all my other facial muscles... but Bauby's left eye was the good one. And to raise my left eyebrow, I have to squint my right eye into closed position, which of course is ridiculous since Jean-Do was paralyzed, and thus unable to squint like that. I really have to do something about that.

But persist I shall. You'll know when I get really good at it, because I'll have been struck down by lightning and sent straight to hell. That amateurish Photoshop up top is the ticket; doing a good Jean-Do will be my boarding pass.

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