Movie: the diving bell and the butterfly (1); being free in Reformed theology

April 9, 2008

The French movie with English subtitles, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is one of those movies that I think you need to let ripen slowly inside of you. On first sight it’s just another very boring, quite depressing movie, with a few moments of humor. But as time goes by, you realize that you’ll remember this movie for quite some time. Well, maybe I’m wrong, cause it’s only been 24 hours since I saw it, but the more time pass, the more the metaphors and scenes seem to be impressed upon my mind.

The movie beautifully portrays not only locked-in syndrome (the result of a certain stroke which leave you paralyzed form head to toe, but with full function of your brain and ears), but also the experience of being locked-in in life. This become obvious with the people who claim to understand, the guy Juan-Do gave his plain ticket to, that compare Juan-Do’s locked-in syndrome with his own experience of being locked-in while being held hostage for a number of years, and his dad, that compare his own being locked up in his flat on the fourth level with Juan-Do’s locked-in syndrome. The images of the diving bell are also a constant reminder that this is more than a mere portrayal of locked-in syndrome, but a metaphor for life.

And I find myself grabbing back onto this metaphor again and again, being locked-in, dependent on others for every move you make, this seem to be both our blessing and our curse. The curse part seem to be the obvious part, it is possible for Juan-Do to do anything without others. It is obviously painful to have to rely on others to switch the channels of the TV, even worse, to rely on others simply to ask someone for help! He cannot even ask someone else’s help without someone first taking the trouble to look at him and find out if he would like to ask something. I’m not sure yet whether the movie attempts to show the freedom others possess, or the experience of being locked-in.

I guess Reformed theology would tell us that we are freed from our diving bells, that we are no longer locked-in. And then reality over and over seems to reply that people still have to ability to lock others up. Lock them up in stigmatization, in poverty, in mistrusting humanity. Lock them up in their own worlds of nightmares, of fear, of uncertainty. If we have to use the categories of sin and forgiveness in the way that make sense today, maybe this would be it: that we are free from all forms of being locked-in. But this would remind us of the tension which Reformed theology seemed to have lost, because constantly we are reminded that still we are being locked in, the “wonders” doesn’t seem to work. Silently in faith we belief that freedom from all forms of being locked-in is possible, but not necessarily triumphantly proclaiming that the battle has been won.

In comes people… and imagination. It is in his imagination that Juan-Do finds freedom. But also, maybe not that obvious, it is in his dependency on people that freedom is found. Being locked-in locks out people, those who nevertheless take the trouble to become part of his world, help to free him. And in the end freedom is not to be found by being totally independent. It is relations that bound him that Juan-Do now miss; being taken from these relations is what locked him in. So the dependency on people becomes a blessing. Slowly but surely, between people and imagination, Juan-Do again finds the butterfly. And Reformed theology? I guess it’s the difference between triumphantly claiming that: “through Christ victory is ours, we must just take it”, and humbly believing that being free is possible, but that this is a road together with people and imagination, a road of spirituality. This is the answer of a theology that replies to our reality in faith, rather than a theology that triumphantly shouts out the reality of lives locked-ins.

3 Responses to “Movie: the diving bell and the butterfly (1); being free in Reformed theology”

  1. […] 10, 2008 Yesterday I posted some thoughts that were stirred by metaphors in the diving bell and the butterfly. However, the […]

  2. Now i really have to see this movie. I was recommended it on my coma-care course. i’ll be visiting coma patients with similar ‘lock-in’ states. It’s really interesting trying to communicate with them.
    Now that there are reformation lessons in the flick too, i have to see it!

  3. Roy Says:

    I loved “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”, but the movie I’d rather see is “My Stroke of Insight”, which is the amazing bestselling book by Dr Jill Bolte Taylor. It is an incredible story and there’s a happy ending. She was a 37 year old Harvard brain scientist who had a stroke in the left half of her brain. The story is about how she fully recovered, what she learned and experienced, and it teaches a lot about how to live a better life. Her TEDTalk at TED dot com is fantastic too. It’s been spread online millions of times and you’ll see why!

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