The movie is based on the autobiography of Jean-Dominique Bauby, who, when we meet him, has just woken up from a coma after a stroke that has left him completely paralyzed and unable to do anything but blink his left eye. In the course of the film, he learns to communicate by blinking, ultimately dictating the entire work upon which the film is based. This is an incredibly impressive feat, and the movie certainly makes it clear just how impressive it is, without being over-bearing about it.
Certainly, it helps that Bauby is gifted with language. One of his first sentences is about the quality of light coming through the frayed curtain of his hospital room - it's gorgeous. The film does due honor to the beauty of the prose by its own beauty - Schnabel, the director, is a painter, and oh boy can you tell. It's a stunningly beautiful film. The greatest pleasure in it, I think, is just the rendering of the text, being able to see the metaphors. In this, its reminiscent somewhat of Gondry's work, especially Science of Sleep. Both films explore landscapes of dreams and memory, and do a lovely job of it. At one point, Bauby says that he has his memory and his imagination, and with those two, he can do anything, a claim that the film beautifully brings to life.
But it's also about the man's experience, what it's like to be trapped in one's own body, the new life he faces. It's surprisingly unsentimental and direct in this regard, and this is probably why it's so powerful. There are plenty of moments of humor, albeit of a rather dark variety. Bauby doesn't throw a pity party for himself - actually, the very first thing he says is that he wants to die, and the furious response of his speech therapist is intense: "it's obscene" she says, and my god, she's right. Given my own occasionally nihilistic tendencies, this made a huge impression on me, and was a really well-done aspect of the film - nor does he conceal the fact that he hasn't always been the greatest of guys, and his accident hasn't changed that. It is, however, about a man confronting his past and trying to be a better person, and poignantly so. It's a conversion occasioned by his changed physical state, but simultaneously autonomous from it, and it really makes up the meat of the film, I think.
Really an impressive movie - highly recommended.