The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is arresting. For one hour and fifty-two minutes, it cuffs you to your seat and leaves you virtually incapable of movement and/or speech. Likewise, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly makes your mind race and your imagination roll, as you place yourself in the chair of its “locked-in” lead.
After suffering a massive stroke in 1995, the editor-in-chief of French Elle, Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathiew Amalric), awakens with a condition called locked-in syndrome. Paralyzed from head to toe, “Jean-Do” realizes that he cannot move, speak, or swallow. Considering Jean-Do is still mentally alert, he uses his only unaffected muscle – his left eyelid – to blink once for “yes” and twice for “no.” That is, until an amanuensis named Henriette Durand (Marie-Josée Croze) teaches Jean-Do an extended means of communication.
By repeating each letter of the alphabet in order of frequency of use and having Jean-Do blink when she says the letter of his choosing, Henriette gets Jean-Do to speak. In patiently replicating this process over and over again, Jean-Do is able to form words and even sentences.
As Jean-Do adjusts his mindset from self-pitying to accepting, his dictating assistant Claude Mendibil (Ann Consigny) records his every word. The result is a memoir of Jean-Do’s everyday events and fantasies titled "Le Scaphandre et le papillion" ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly").
In what follows, the audience witnesses Jean-Do greeting visitors and getting a bath. More contentedly, we observe Jean-Do celebrating Father’s Day and seeing the mother of his children, Celine (Emmanuelle Seigner), visit often. Most joyfully, we watch his memories play out and his mind's eye invent out-of-this-world occurrences.
For the first 30 minutes of film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is primarily told from the first-person viewpoint of Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathiew Amalric). The audience sees the world as he sees it — with blurred vision, tears, and darkness once his right eye is sewn shut. This alone is a testament to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’s brilliance.