Connotation and Identification in “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” directed by Julian Schnabel and “My Father’s Brain” by Jonathan Franzen
Both “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “My Father’s Brain” use positive and negative connotations to help the reader identify with the characters. In “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” Jean Dominique Bauby experiences his locked in syndrome as a way to break free of the tediousness of life and experience complete freedom of creativity. In “My Father’s brain” Franzen recounts watching his father lose all cognitive function while providing a personal narrative. Schnabel uses camera angles, lighting, and the environment to allow the viewer to understand Bauby’s point of view. Since the audience can see from his view they have an easier time identifying with Bauby. This creates a symbiotic relationship between the character and the viewer; the viewer feels Bauby’s sadness, celebrates Bauby’s successes, and shares his annoyance at his limitations. Franzen’s piece also tries to identify with the reader but creates a different relationship dynamic. Instead of linking the reader and the character, the story uses an intelligent, scientific tone to establish a student/teacher relationship. Franzen is the “expert” and the reader is his “apprentice”. Literarey identification is defined as the readers ability to see themselves in the work’s characters. Despite the opposite connotations of each piece, both easily establish identification.
Positive anecdotes in any genre lull the viewer into a sense of comfort. A comfortable, relaxing environment encourages the reader to delve deeper into the story, identify with the main character better, and to interpret the story in their own ways without fear of making a mistaken judgment. The image of the flying “Butterfly” in the movie acted as a symbol for freedom. The image of flying connotes floating and calm while “Butterfly” connotes beauty, rarity, and wonder. This combination of elements leads Jean-Do to adapt that image into the novel he writes. The true benefit of freedom is that it gives us strength. The freedom of creativity that Jean-Do develops gives him the strength to overcome his suicidal urges. If the viewer is able to identify with that sense of freedom, new doors of thought can be opened whether it be into creative expression or literal analysis. In “My Father’s Brain” the introduction uses several positive words like “romantic”, “heart” and “Valentine’s” in order to help the reader to identify with their own Valentine’s Day experience. These words have a positive connotation and are easily relatable. Again this puts the reader into a comfortable feeling and allows the reader to understand the characters emotions. In the movie Jean-Bauby says “…two things aren’t paralyzed: my imagination and my memory.” Jean-Do uses his mind as a way to escape his problems; most readers can relate to focusing on the good qualities of life to mask the bad. This means that the positive identification gives the reader the “strength” and will to not only read the story, but to understand the deeper message that the story or movie is trying to impart. Positive developments in the story also allow the characters to gain strength. While the positive developments in Jean-Do’s life give him the strength to overcome his suicidal thoughts, the positive elements of the Valentines package Franzen received allowed him to face his father’s brain autopsy results as well as helped him to remember the entire incident more vividly.
While negative elements generally unsettle or anger readers, it also encourages the reader to investigate further to understand why an author would include or even mention such disturbing things. When Franzen writes “I wished he’d had a heart attack instead” this leads the reader to question why Franzen would bring up the subject of death and wish death on his father. In order to understand the emotions Franzen is feeling, the reader has to put him/herself in his position. Despite the negativity of death, it serves as the vessel to connect the reader and the author. The “Diving Bell” in the movie appeared as a reoccurring element symbolizing depression. The empty, dark ocean symbolized lonely isolation. While he was surrounded in the diving suit, he was discouraged from living; it can also be argued that this state forced Jean-Do to overcome his justified depression and continue to try and live a normal life. Suicide and depression are usually avoided in movies and this makes their appearance in this movie strange and unfamiliar to the viewer. However, it still encourages the viewer to . In “My Father’s Brain” words like “hollow,” “temporary” and “loss” all have negative connotations that also create a sense of fleetingness. During the story Franzen’s father has a few moments when his cognitive function is pulled together long enough for him to pass messages on. Despite the fleetingness of his total consciousness, he has the strength to pull himself together for brief periods of time in order to communicate with Franzen. Franzen in turn gains the strength to write this essay on Alzheimers due to his understanding of the fleetingness of memory and his desire to preserve it. A slow, embarrassing death does not make a reader feel comfortable but instead makes them feel threatened. Worrying and fretting still motivates the reader to try and understand the themes of the story and sharing the fear of loss with Franzen allows the reader to understand the emotions Franzen is feeling. Despite the stigmas that come with negativity, it can still affect a readers ability to identify beneficially.
Within each genre the best way to foster identification is different. Movies, like “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” have options involving images. The movie provides a story interpreted strongly though sight and sound. The producers can easily manipulate how the viewer feels by changing the images and sounds. For instance, a classical score as well as a black and white picture can “trick” the reader into feeling that the setting of the movie takes place in the past. In “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” the sounds are kept short and the view at the beginning is the cloudy view of the Bauby emerging from his coma. This allows the viewer to identify with Bauby’s confusion and isolation. In order for a movie to create identification between the character and the viewer the movie must use the images and the sounds combined with the dialogue not just the dialogue alone. In a short narrative, like “My Father’s Brain”, the reader is only provided with text and must mentally visualize the events that are happening. In order to create identification between the reader and characters in a narrative, the author must reveal some of his own personality, thoughts, and feelings in order to help the reader understand his point of view. The events must be general enough to allow any person to step into Franzen’s shoes and specific enough to accurately describe the events that happened. Use of descriptive words helps the reader to be able to create a mental picture. Franzen’s story can also be considered a scientific essay. Essays generally present a large amount of fact with few personal touches. The reader is again required to work harder to understand the factual information. When one thinks of a movie, one feels that it must entertain them. One thinks that it should show beautiful and creative images flashing one after the other, a constant streaming of entertainment. A movie should do the work for oneself and never go deeper than the surface. However, one generally finds that essays or narratives are more work on the part of the reader. Rather than for entertainment purposes, stories such as these require the reader to keep a constant thought process going in order to understand the deeper meaning. It’s much harder for a movie to identify with a viewer on a deep level, and much easier for a personal narative. Conversely, it’s much easier for a movie to create a shallow connection quickly than for an essay to make one at all.
Motivation is a scarce resource, but a valuable one. In order to understand the themes and morals of a story, movie, or poem the reader must have the motivation to do so. So why is identification important? Identification blends the line between reality and fantasy. It closes the distance that a reader puts between him/herself and the story. When positivity is encountered along with identification the reader becomes comfortable with the story, closes the gap between the two, and is motivated to learn and incorporate lessons in the story to their own life. Similarly, when negative identification occurs, the reader also closes the gap this time with fear as a motivator. The reader fears that the negativity in the story is as powerful as in their own life and brings the story closer to them to try and learn how to avoid negativity or to learn how to cope with it. Both forms of identification give the reader enough motivation to examine the text further, which allows the authors to accomplish their goal of giving a message. In “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” Schnabel wants the viewer to appreciate the quality of their lives. “My Father’s Brain” wants the reader to cherish their family and to nuture their mememories. The closer the reader identifies with the character the easier it is for the reader to apply the themes the papers are presenting in a real world environment.