Friday, 25 March 2011

The Secret Life of Vegetables

Le scaphandre et le papillon (c) 2007 Pathé Renn production

What would it be like, tied to a bed, not being able to move a muscle? Ever? Many people say that if they ever turn into vegetables, being able to only live through machines, they'd want to be killed. It seems reasonable, after all, you can't really do anything you used to enjoy anymore. But that's only from looking at the point of view of someone healthy. What would you actually want to do, were you in such a position? And how would that affect those around you? A few films from various countries address this kind of living each in their own way.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le schaprande et le papillon)
Director: Julian Schnabel
France, 2007

First, we have two real-life stories of paraglecic people. One learns to live, the other wants to die. This film is about the former. It tells the story of fashion magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a stroke. As a result he can only move his eyelids. This horrifying situation is referred to being a Butterfly inside a Diving Bell by Bauby (Mathieu Amalric). The film's director Julian Schnabel shoots the first act of the film straight from Bauby's eyes, which creates a sense of helplessness and claustrophobia also for the viewer. But even though it all seems hopeless, being that fragile, the movie gives Bauby eventually a reason to keep on living and fighting for a recovery.

Bauby learns to spell by blinking his eyes. As he gets a skill of self-expression, we as viewers are also rewarded by getting to see some of his dreams in images, and even the man himself from another point of view. We get to see glimpses of his past life and understand the full-scale feel of loss of never being able to embrace those that love him again.

The film is very touching and inventively shot. It's one of those very few films that you get the feeling you feel through your whole body, not just with your eyes and brain. Mathieu Amalric is not exactly one of my favorite actors, but in a role as subdued, he does terrific work. If one has lived life to the fullest, and has to live the last few years of one's life on borrowed time, shouldn't one make the most of it?


The Sea Inside (Mar adrento)
Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Spain, 2004

Well, to answer the final question of the last movie, Spaniard Ramon Sampedro (Javier Bardem) says no. He was also a real person, and in Spain a celebrity for fighting to court for 30 years to get himself a chance for euthanasia. I'm all for a mercy killing for people in excruciating pain, but Sampedro really doesn't have it that bad. He can at least talk and move his head so he really doesn't have to look at the same ocean view opening from his bedroom.

Sampedro is also a ladies' man. Being played by Javier Bardem of course does that to you. His relationship with two women nurturing him drives him to the solutions he eventually chooses. Julia (Belén Rueda) is his lawyer who supports his cause, whereas Rosa (Lola Dueñas) is his nurse that wants to convince him to reconcider his death wish. Both women will have major developments in their life during the course of the movie, which make them see Sampedro's problem from another angle.

Unlike The Diving Bell and Butterfly, The Sea Inside is melodramatic and filled with sap. Sampedro is supposedly a wise man charming everyone he meets and teaching them lessons in life. To me he's just a cranky bald man who's bitching about how he can't change himself. So one really shouldn't watch this after the French masterpiece. But actually both are still well worth watching, as one can see from them the different attitudes people from different countries may have about the same subject. The French are eager to rebel against bad conditions, so Bauby rises against his oppressing situation and nihilism as well. Whereas the Spanish are so passionate about living life for the fullest, they are willing to go to war to end it if they can't do it anymore. I think it's pretty clear with which I symphatize more.


Director: Richard Franklin
Australia, 1978

As a counteweight for such heavy dramas, we have an australian exploitation movie that takes the permise of Carrie and moves her powers to the body of a creepy coma patient. Patrick (Robert Thompson) is someone who always keeps his eyes open, yet never needs anyone to moisture them á la A Clockwork Orange. He is hinted at having done something evil to get to that condition as his mother and her lover had died brutally at the same time he went into coma.

The film follows nurse Kathy (Susan Penhaligon) as she's hired to work at the hospital where Patrick is situated. She has recently divorced from her husband, yet the pair still has lingering feelings towards each other. She confines in Patrick, believing he can't hear her deepest emotions. Yet at the same time, weird paranormal activities wreck havock and seem to be bent on destroying everytone Kathy holds dear.

Speaking at the point of view of the vegetable, Patrick is all about bottled up rage. To certain extent it's also about sexual frustration of a feeble individual that really can't do that much about it. In exploitation films it always has to go all Freudian at some point. It is the rage rather than the will to live that keeps Patrick going. Like many frustrated people, he hopes to release the power of the id to do destruction in his bidding. This mind power is shown as being concrete here. In the end it's even questionable whether Patrick really was comatose or if he was just so in control of his mind as to be able to fake it all the way through.

Patrick is a clear cult movie. It is mostly remembered by horror film aficionados and less known by the general public. Some of this may be because of the film's Australian origin. It was a huge hit in the country at the time and even spawned an Italian rip-off/sequel Patrick Still Lives (1980). For an exploitation flick, it does play a lot with different moods rather than gory sequences. The athmosphere in Patrick creates different kinds of unease at each point. The actors are not half bad for such a film, either and the film's plot doesn't follow the most trodden paths of horror films. Yet director Franklin is still not good enough to completely avoid silly jump-scares and going over-the-top at times. But that's what horror film fans want, right?

A lot of interest towards the film has awoken as Quentin Tarantino recommended it in the documentary Not Quite Hollywood. Tarantino has also expressed his love in Kill Bill vol. 1. In that film, Uma Thurman's still able to spit upon people she doesn't like, while being in a coma, just like Patrick.

★★★ 1/2

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