Julian Schnabel on Death and Losing His Father

Recently, I was reminded of an interview Julian Schnabel did with Charlie Rose nearly a decade ago in 2007 while he was promoting his stunning film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. In the interview, Schnabel talked about how he was inspired to make the film after watching what his father, Jack, went through while he was dying. Jack was terrified of death. Schnabel talks about how making The Diving Bell and The Butterfly helped him overcome his own fear of death because he was able to live more fully in the present. 

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was originally a memoir written by French magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby. In 1995, he suffered a stroke and experienced what is called locked-in syndrome. He managed to write his profoundly moving memoir through blinking one of his eyelids. Bauby's story is remarkable, and I recommend both his book and Schnabel's film. It will make you see life differently. 

Schnabel's interview with Charlie Rose is extraordinary. While Jack Schnabel was dying, a friend wrote down everything he said. Rose reads the text as pictures of Julian and Jack are shown on the screen. It's an outburst of words and thoughts and emotion. It's a poem from the lips of a dying man, and it will take your breath away.

You can watch the full interview here on the Charlie Rose website. I strongly recommend watching it. It has stayed with me for almost ten years, and so I want to share it with others and make them aware of its arresting power. It's an interview about life, death, loss, and the power of art.

Julian Schnabel: I`m not scared to die anymore. And one of reasons - one of the reasons why I made this film is because my father who was 92 was terrified of death, and he was stuck inside of his body. And so, the idea is not to be stuck inside of your body. 
Charlie Rose: But so, how did making the movie get you -- eliminate your fear of death? 
Julian Schnabel: By making the present more satisfying. And I think what happens when people go see the movie people come - Yeah, I went out of the movie. I grabbed my kids. I hugged my children. Or I did this or... 
Charlie Rose: Things are precious.
Julian Schnabel: My dad never wrote a word in his life, but Darren McCormack, who stayed with him -- I said, "would you just write down whatever my father says?" And he did and he handed me this text. 
Charlie Rose: The only poem he ever wrote. 
Julian Schnabel: The only poem he ever wrote. 
Charlie Rose:  All right. Here it is. The last time we talked, I said I wanted to see it and you sent it to me. And so I unbeknownst to you, brought it with me. "You are a gem of a man. You`re an angel. Do me a favor, give me a scratch. Put me to sleep so I can be reborn. I`m going to miss you. You`re my little guy. I wish my wife was alive. She would tell you what a good man I am. I`ll give you the necklace for a drink. Do me a favor, cover me, put me to sleep. How should I sleep? All of this money and what good is it? Something is missing. I`m dying. Oh, I`m about 55, everything is all right. I didn't realize how sick I was. You know, sometimes I like to eat eggs. Do me favor, give me a scratch. I`m so glad I have a rich son who brought you to me. This place is bigger than you think. How are the kids? I wish you would take care of Julian. I worry. Do me a favor, take his blood pressure. I would like to give him $200 for his trip. Do me a favor, give me a rub. I would like to live with Andrea. Steve is strong. Would you do me a favor? Put me to sleep for 20 minutes. Nice cold bars. What is going in my belly button? Flying flies, green grass of Wyoming. Give me horse bubbles. Make a little mixture so I can bend down and go to sleep. I don`t know who is more stubborn, you or me. You know, I think I ought to give you a break. Yeah. Uh-huh. I would like to give your girl a big black bear. That`s a good iron. Which way should I sleep? I want to look at you. I need that round thing from the Army. What did the market close? How much do you take in, in a year? Plenty of stuff. I`m talking about the big stuff. Is that right? Are we awake? I`m glad you regulate yourself. What am I thinking? Put me in the middle. Could you put me in the middle? No, scratch me in the middle. In the middle. In the middle. I like the way they change their slogans for the middle. I want to be in the middle. What is impressing is that tub you`ve got in the middle. Give me a workout. I should really have some alcohol. I like the strongest stuff. I got plenty in me. You have to do something for me. You`ve got to get me fatter. Are we getting fresh air? You have got to take me and take me. Do me a favor, give me a scratch. Rub me in the middle. Milk sure is good. Babies like milk. Is the baby asleep? I want to insure my money. I would like to drink some blood. Cover me, hug me, kiss me, love me, knock me in the head. Give me some poison. I`d like to get a potion, some lotion. I would like to have a woman that doesn`t think. Give me a drink. Could you give me some courage, doc? Where`s my little guy? Everyone has cancer. I`d like to go to Atlantic City. My kids do good business. How`s business? I`m going to marry her and move to Spain. Stevie, Stevie, oh Stevala. Where`s Deborah? Who is she going with? Yeah, I`d like to give her $10,000. All my kids are dying. I don`t think I`d like it. Is my wife asleep? Life is short. Could you put me to sleep for an hour? Uh-huh. Life is short. Don`t hear nothing. Don`t see nothing. I want to live with Andrea. I`m losing her. I miss my wife. I want to live with you. I miss my mother. I see my wife. I want to clean my teeth. I want to take a bath. Put me in the tub. Yeah, uh-huh. That`s it. Warmer. I hope I can get something for my stomach, but the scrubby that my body. Love me. This is it. Love me. I miss my mother, I miss my wife. I want you to take me, take me, love me, curl me, hold me. Thanks, baby doll." Jack Schnabel, January 16th, 2004.