"The Bell Jar" tolls for Julia Stiles
by Shawn Adler
She’s trapsed the globe with super-spy Jason Bourne, but Julia Stiles’ greatest journey is the one she’ll soon be making inside her own head, the 26-year-old told MTV News, as she gears up to play Esther Greenwood in the film adaptation of the classic Slyvia Plath novel “The Bell Jar.”
Sometimes described by readers as a “female ‘Catcher in the Rye,’” “The Bell Jar” follows Greenwood as she experiences massive, clinical melancholia, through commitment to a mental hospital, electroshock therapy, and several suicide attempts. Ask most casual students of English literature and they’ll tell you “The Bell Jar” is one thing above all – effing depressing.
“I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s depressing at all. It is ABOUT depression,” Stiles argued. “But I think that Sylvia Plath writes with such awesome, beautiful, vivid imagery that is so perfect for film, that it’s kind of a joy. I wouldn’t have spent this much time trying to set up the movie if I didn’t love it.”
Part of what makes people think of “The Bell Jar” as depressing, Stiles insists, actually has nothing to do with the book at all – but with the author, who committed suicide one month after the novel’s initial publication.
“I think that a lot of people think Sylvia Plath as being this dark, brooding soul because of her history, her biography overshadows her writing,” Stiles contended. “Actually, her writing was different than that. I think that the vibrant images that she describes in ‘The Bell Jar’ are perfect for a film, maybe even more-so than a novel.”
What makes those images “perfect for film,” Stiles added, was that they take place inside Greenwood’s head – and are therefore limited only by one’s imagination. Which means Stiles is already thinking outside the box about how to introduce them into the movie.
“There should be animation in the film, I think,” she said. “[For instance] There are images where the main character is imagining a fig tree growing. And it grows, and grows, and grows, and she sees all the options in her life of what she can do, what profession she could have as the fruit on the tree. It’s a challenge to be able to realize that, [but] if you imagine a Tim Burton movie like ‘Big Fish.’ If [they] can realize that…”
At one point Greenwood describes her depression as like being stuck under a bell jar, unable to draw breath or escape. What does the “The Bell Jar” ultimately mean to Stiles?
“That sort of artistic spirit, if it doesn’t find it’s way, it doesn’t find it’s channel, if you don’t find an outlet for that,” she said. “It can crush a person.”