The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) - pick
Lars and the Real Girl (2007) - pick
The Golden Compass (2007) - pass
Not long ago, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano published commentary on the 2008 Academy Awards that strikingly coincided with my own analysis on this page a few weeks ago.
Specifically, the article found the same faults of hopelessness and nihilism that I did in No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood — but also praised the positive messages of the same films I did, including last week’s DVD Pick Juno — and this week’s first DVD Pick, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (new on DVD).
Despite mature content that some might prefer to avoid, Diving Bell, with Juno, is among the most life-affirming productions of 2007. Diving Bell could even be considered the antithesis of recent pro-euthanasia films (see The Sea Inside, Million Dollar Baby). Directed by Julian Schnabel, it’s a mesmerizing exploration of one of the most crushingly debilitating conditions imaginable.
Based on the memoir of Parisian jet-setter Jean-Dominique Bauby, who dictated the book literally by blinking his left eyelid after succumbing to “locked-in syndrome” as a result of a massive stroke, the film puts the viewer literally in Bauby’s head, allowing us to hear his thoughts and see what he sees.
Also new on DVD, Lars and the Real Girl may be the year’s sweetest and gentlest film for adult viewers, despite its eyebrow-raising premise. Set in a small Midwestern town, the film depicts a profoundly socially maladjusted young man named Lars (Ryan Gosling), whose pathological aversion to human contact morphs into full-fledged delusion, with his believing that a life-size plastic doll is a real woman.
This might sound like another gross-out/heartfelt comedy like Knocked Up, yet Lars manages to be sweet and sincere without tipping over into schmaltz or gross-out territory. Almost incredibly, Lars treats religion with respect, avoiding cheap laughs. The members of Lars’s Lutheran church struggle with responding to his issues but do so with compassion and understanding.
Oh, L’Osservatore Romano also agreed with me about another notable DVD release this week, The Golden Compass. Based on the first of Philip Pullman’s anti-God fantasy trilogy, Compass is set in a parallel world combining Victorian intrigue, high fantasy, sci-fi and other influences — all overshadowed by the depraved “Magisterium,” obsessed with preserving “centuries of teaching” from the dangers of “heresy” — by any means necessary.
Viewed in isolation, Compass is less objectionable than the likes of, say, The Da Vinci Code. Yet it must be seen in the context of Pullman’s whole world, book sales — and the sequels that might still be made.
Content advisory: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: Some sexual content and brief nudity; some crude language. Viewers cautioned: mature viewing; discretion advised. Lars and the Real Girl: Some innuendo and crass sexually related comments; a couple of profanities; an inappropriate mock event held in a church (not a simulated sacrament). The Golden Compass: Anti-religious themes; intense action violence; fantasy presentation of witches; references to a character’s out-of-wedlock parentage.