Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch:
At the movies: ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’; fiction and leadership share the bookshelf

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the May 1, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Review

Julian Schnabel’s new film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a difficult movie to watch and yet it can have a haunting life-changing effect on the viewer.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is based on the true story of the editor of French Elle magazine, Dominique Bauby, who had a massive stroke in 1995 at the age of 43. At the beginning of the movie we see events in a French hospital near Calais through the one good eye of Bauby (Mathieu Amalric). Bauby can blink his left eye but is unable to speak. We are able to hear his thoughts, however, even though the doctors and nurses cannot.

With the help of a speech therapist (Marie-Josee Croze) who sounds out the most frequently used letters of the alphabet and asks Bauby to blink for the letter he wants, we learn that Bauby’s first sentence is: “I want to die.” But with time and effort Bauby realizes he still has the gift of imagination. His therapist contacts his publisher and convinces her to send someone who can work eight hours a day with him so that he can write a book. It is in these slowly written words that we learn the imagination of Bauby. Director Schnabel, a painter by vocation, presents memorable pictures of Bauby’s remembrance and imagination.

One Sunday, the speech therapist takes Bauby to Mass at a nearby parish church. She is a believer who prays for her patient each day. He is an agnostic who is not too happy about going to church. When the parish priest asks if he would like a blessing, the therapist says definitely “yes,” even though we know Bauby inside is saying a strong “no.” After giving the blessing, the pastor suggests a pilgrimage to Lourdes, and Bauby says to himself, “no way.” But then we have a delightful section where Bauby remembers going with his girlfriend Ines (Agathe de La Fontaine) to Lourdes. He did not want to go there then, either. We see them shopping in the cheesy commercial section of Lourdes. His girlfriend wants a garish Madonna that flashes different colors of light. It is said to be one-of-a-kind. That night Ines demands the Madonna be lit all night in their room. This is too much for Bauby, who walks alone out on the streets of Lourdes at midnight, where he proudly sees another blinking one-of-a-kind Virgin blinking in a shop window.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a life-affirming film that asks the viewer to go to a place of life and death that is often avoided. The direction by the painter Schnabel is extraordinary. The cinematography is by Janusz Kaminski, who has done many of Spielberg’s films. Yes, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a hard film to watch, but it is a film that needs to be seen and remembered.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America and A-III – for adults – by the USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting.

Book Reviews

It has been five or six years since I read a John Grisham novel. I have always enjoyed a courtroom thriller. Grisham’s new book The Appeal goes back to the fast-paced plot action that he does so well.

It always strikes me in a Grisham novel that there is little or no description of people or places. But he continually draws you into the plot that won’t stop. And when you think you know how it is going to turn out he throws a curve ball that takes you to a surprising place. Yes, there is a note of cynicism about our institutions that we would like to trust. And the good guys don’t always come out standing. But in the end, Grisham comes up with a lively story that you don’t want to put down.

Wes and Mary Grace Payton are trial lawyers in southern Mississippi who win a large settlement for a local woman named Jeannette Baker, whose husband and son have died as a result of chemicals from a huge local factory in the area that has let dangerous substances contaminate the local drinking water supply. The Wall Street owner of the company is the very rich and powerful Carl Trudeau. He is angry at the $41 million settlement that has ramifications on other lawsuits that could bring down his company.

As a result of the jury settlement in a distant state Trudeau sets upon a dark plan to get elected a new judge to a Mississippi Supreme Court that will tip the balance of the judges so that on appeal the jury settlement will be thrown out. So, much of the book is the fascinating story of the political campaign to remove the so-called liberal judge from the state supreme court.

John Grisham brings his knowledge of once being a lawyer and a legislator in Mississippi to the fore as he tells this gripping story. He then adds his familiarity with Little League baseball to a key subsidiary plot involving a Supreme Court justice and his son who is a fine Little League pitcher.

Grisham writes in favor of trial lawyers and against corporate greed and misuse of power. He is in the tradition of the muckrakers from the turn of the 20th century. He even has a riff on modern sculpture.

If you enjoy the fast-paced court room novel, you are in for a treat when you read The Appeal.

The Appeal is published in 2008 by Doubleday in hardcover for $27.95.


Markus Zusak of Sidney, Australia has written an extraordinary book originally designed for young adults titled The Book Thief. It was published in trade paperback edition in 2007 by Alfred A. Knopf for $11.99.

The Book Thief is the dramatic and poignant story of nine years old Liesel Meminger, who comes to live with a f oster family on Himmel Street in a suburb of Munich called Molching. This all takes place in the late 1930s and continues through World War II.

The Hubermanns are the family who take Liesel in. She has gone through lots of tragedy already at her young age. At the funeral of her brother, before she came to Munich, she stole a book she found at her brother’s cemetery, titled The Grave Digger’s Handbook. She cannot yet read but Hans, her adopted father, teaches her. Through the years, Liesel continues to steal books from Nazi book burnings and from the home of the Nazi mayor of Molching.

As Liesel grows into her teen years, one of the key people in her life becomes Max, a Jew who comes to be hidden in the basement of the Hubermann family. And so through Liesel’s friends and family we experience World War II from a German point of view. So this novel gives a haunting portrayal of the horror of Nazism and war.

The narrator is Death personified. And there are numerous drawings as we are a party to the writings of Max, the hidden Jew, and of course Liesel herself.

The Book Thief is a moving portrayal of ordinary people during the key event of the 20th century. For young people not familiar with the Nazi period, this story is an entertaining history lesson that will be remembered. For adults, Markus Zusak, using the stories of his grandparents living in Germany during the Second World War, paints pictures that stay with you.

Recently Received

Leonard Doohan, who is professor emeritus at Gonzaga, has a new book out on leadership training. It is called Spiritural Leadership: The Quest for Integrity, published by Paulist Press in large-size paperback at $18.95.

The book would be ideal in a ministry leadership class in college or seminary. A parish staff might use a chapter a session as part of a continuing education program. “Spiritual Leadership” is well organized and practical. It seems to me it doesn’t have a lot of practical examples, but a class or staff could use personal examples to make the text come alive.

(Father Caswell is Ecumenical Relations Officer and archivist for the Spokane Diocese, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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