Who's in It:
Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Max von Sydow
The Basics: Jean-Dominique Bauby was a real guy, editor of French Elle until suddenly, at age 42, out of the blue, the weirdest stroke ever hit him and left him completely paralyzed from head to toe. His remaining ability was to blink his left eye. That's it. And it gets weirder with this one blinking eye, he learned to communicate with his speech therapist, spelling words slowly as she read the alphabet to him while he blinked for each letter he wanted to use. That's how he wrote the memoir this was based on. Makes you feel lazy, doesn't it?
What's the Deal? To keep this from turning into a weepy, maudlin mess, it required a director who could hold back and communicate Bauby's experience in a non-condescending way. So '80s art-star Julian Schnabel was the best person for the job. What you see is Bauby's "locked-inside" perspective the victim is the camera. And because as a patient, he's mostly given to low-key despair, lust and bleak humor realizing that even though he'd like to die, he couldn't kill himself if he tried the movie translates this unhappy stuff into beautiful, sometimes ecstatic, sometimes blurry, sometimes mournful images. You experience both his exterior awfulness and his interior fantasies about what he always wanted from life. And Schnabel gets the seamless, not-compartmentalized quality of that stuff exactly right.
Who's Great: Seigner (Mrs. Roman Polanski, by the way) as Bauby's (Amalric) pre-stroke wife who stands by his side, and von Sydow as the elderly father he takes care of before he eventually needs constant care himself.
Who Shouldn't See It: People with zero tolerance for any story about any person in any physically disabled position who learns to "triumph" in any way, no matter how it's portrayed. I get that. It's usually pretty gross on the screen. But here it doesn't try to go for the big dumb emotional moment. I mean, there are emotional moments, but Schnabel doesn't twist your arm around your back and make you say "uncle" to get to them.
Who Else Shouldn't See It: This friend of mine who has a total phobia about the idea of being buried alive. Seriously, this guy has stated explicitly that if he's ever on life support, his family and friends have to read him all of Proust's In Search of Lost Time before pulling the plug. I don't even have that phobia, and this movie freaked me out with its trapped-person's-eye view.