Sunday, 9 January 2011


Maybe I'm just hugely behind the times here bloggies, but did everyone know about The Bell Jar film due to be released next year? Apparently it's been in production since 2008 (what's the hold up?) and Julia Stiles from Save The Last Dance (CRINGE) and 10 Things I hate About You (AMAZING) fame is to produce the film and play Esther Greenwood...

I've got to be honest and say this news makes me SUPER anxious y'all. I'd hate for a film to be made which didn't reflect the tone of the book, adequately explore the inner turmoil of Esther's thoughts, or sentimentalise the issues it deals with. I'd full on die a little inside if it was done badly, or half-assed.

I feel MUCH more nervous about this than Gatsby because of the negative stereotype that deems Plath and her work as depressing. It kind of is, but it's so SO much more. It would be so unfair to Plath and her massive body of work for a cheesy film to perpetuate that myth.

Also, Julia Stiles? REALLY? I'd have liked to see an unknown actress play the part of Esther, and Julia will always be angsty bad-gal Kat Stratford from 10 Things to me.

BUT, maybe I'm being too harsh. In a letter addressed to Carol Christ, the president of Smith College where Plath attended, she appears to understand the issues facing a film adaptation of such a treasured and complex novel:

"I can assure you that everyone involved in this endeavor understands the huge responsibility of adapting such an important novel. If anything, what we as filmmakers intend is to celebrate the power of Plath's writing, and awaken a larger audience to her talent. Over five years ago, when I decided to try getting the rights to the book, I envisioned a film that could realize the vivid imagery Plath describes, as Esther Greenwood experiences her summer stuck inside The Bell Jar. My intention was never to make a traditional biopic, but instead a film as subjective and at times surreal as the novel itself. Plath is adept at writing visually, so that the reader's perspective is as distorted as Esther's. The difficulty in adapting a novel like this is that so much is established by Esther's interior narrative. On the other hand, Esther's visual metaphors and hallucinatory imagination are perfectly cinematic.

Another challenge in making this adaptation is that for many people, Plath's biography overshadows her work. Those unfamiliar with her writing tend to stereotype her as dark and angry, overlooking that she had many other sides to her, all of which are evident in her prose. Moreover, Plath has been posthumously elevated to a kind of cult status, so that some of her fans can be proprietary of that darkness and anger. The narrator of The Bell Jar is undeniably sarcastic and has a scathing wit, even if she is in the midst of a desperate nightmare. Richard Larschan described it best at the Symposium, by calling it Plath's "self-irony." He aptly pointed out that while Esther Greenwood is nineteen in the novel, Plath wrote The Bell Jar years after the incident, at the age of thirty. Naturally, her narrative is more seasoned, mature, and self-aware. For example, in a moment of frustration alone at her mother's house, Esther says to herself, "I'm going to write a novel, that'll fix them!" It is hard to believe Plath meant this earnestly. Later, when Esther nicknames the doctors at McLeans, "Dr. Spleen" and "Dr. Syphilis," we get a glimpse of this overlooked side of Plath.

There is no denying that The Bell Jar is a story of depression, attempted suicide, and isolation. It is also, however, an example of the multifaceted life force that was Sylvia Plath. I gather from her many biographies that she was a dedicated and focused woman, whose sensitivity made her a great writer, but also caused her immense pain. Indeed, Plath's life ended very tragically, but the protagonist in The Bell Jar does manage to return to her last semester at Smith. Her return is triumphant, albeit precarious.

To ignore Plath's sarcasm, however, as well as her vibrant imagery, would certainly be an injustice to such an enduring novel. We hope to capture the complexity of Esther Greenwood?s story, from the depths of her suffering to the intensity of her perception."


I think she's right, there are lots of passages in the book which do lend themselves perfectly to the medium of film - maybe even animation a la Big Fish style (the fig tree passage anyone?).

But am I desperate to see it? Is it a NECESSARY film? I'm really not sure... And I say that as Sylvia's bitch.


1 comment:

Dylana Suarez said...

I am so excited about this! That is one of my favorite books. I've read it twice and I think I need to read it again. And I LOVE Julia Stiles, and I think she will do an amazing job portraying the main character!


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