Julia Stiles has probably been dreaming of playing poet and one-time novelist Sylvia Plath ever since she was filmed reading a copy of The Bell Jar for a scene in 10 Things I Hate About You. For the last three years she has been working tirelessly to fund an independent adaptation of The Bell Jar, and according to a New York Times interview, only has half of the $5 million budget in place at this point in development. But Stiles’ producing partner Celine Rattray of Mandalay Vision is optimistic the rest will be in place in time for shooting to start in the spring of 2011. New York playwright Tristine Skyler penned a script to be directed by Nicole Kassel, who previously helmed the controversial indie drama The Woodsman starring Kevin Bacon. Virginia Madsen has been signed to play Dr. Nolan, a therapist who helps Plath’s roman à clef protagonist Esther Greenwood (to be played by Stiles) through her suffocating battles with depression.
It's somewhat ironic how frequently The Bell Jar has been used in popular culture for the purposes of comedy, given the novel’s darkly brooding and emotionally draining reputation. But then, people often forget that while Plath’s suicide came just a month after the novel’s release in Britain, Plath’s stand-in Esther Greenwood survives her mental ordeals. Speaking about her vision for the project, Stiles argues against a bleak and despairing portrayal of depression:
What makes Sylvia Plath such a good writer is her ability to write imagery. If you could see this girl’s vivid imagination, it would help the audience understand the intense feelings that she has. It’s a different kind of depression that she suffers from. Instead of being numb to the world, seeing the world in black and white, she sees it almost in hypercolor, and to me that seemed perfect for a film.
Stiles has a very explicit concept of the film’s visual style, having suggested a while back that she likens The Bell Jar’s imagery to the world of Tim Burton’s Big Fish and that she'd like the film to involve animation. She also commented in that interview on her fascination with the novel's 1950s time period. It wouldn’t hurt to see the film draw inspiration from Mad Men, which has perfectly captured that similarly timeless look of the 1960s.
In the meantime, check out a classic scene from Heathers with a special appearance by The Bell Jar.