The Bell Jar (1979)

The Bell Jar (1979)


Poetess Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical story of a 1950s college girl, Esther Greenwood (Marilyn Hassett, The Other Side of the Mountain), who gradually cracks under pressure.

Reaction & Thoughts:

I’m not sure now, but when I was growing up, Plath’s (only) novel was a must-read for teenage girls. I’m really surprised that this is the very first, and only (so far), film adaptation of the 1963 book.

Plath’s main point was that there was, and still is to some extent, hell to be paid for any woman who doesn’t neatly fit into society’s idea of womanhood. People unfamiliar with Plath’s life and writings are bound to have difficulties understanding some of the most complex issues. Sometimes The Bell Jar makes you feel that Esther is simply mentally ill, but in truth, she is really reacting to her hostile environment — the movie could have done a better job explaining Plath’s manifesto.

That’s precisely why I won’t say this is a completely successful movie. Marjorie Kellogg’s (Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon) script lacks form and the direction by Larry Peerce (The Other Side of the Mountain) is average at best. I feel that they kind of failed to seize a great opportunity to film a truly fascinating story.

Marilyn Hassett does as pretty job in a very difficult role. She’s no Meryl Streep, but she is convincing enough as the troubled Esther. Peerce’s unimaginative direction leaves Hassett to her own devices and I thought she had pretty good instincts.

Hassett was surrounded by a terrific cast. Julie Harris (East of Eden) plays Ether’s mother, Anne Jackson (The Shining) plays a psychiatrist, and Barbara Barrie (Breaking Away) plays a chic magazine editor. Jameson Parker (TV’s Simon & Simon) makes his film debut as Esther’s on/off boyfriend.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Flaws and all, The Bell Jar is a strangely poetic feminist opus. I do hope another filmmaker (Jane Campion?) gives the book another try — it has the potential of becoming a great movie. Color, 107 minutes, Rated R.

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