the bell jarred
When I was younger I remember reading a book by Arthur Herzog called Orca. In a nutshell, the book tells the story of a fisherman, Captain Nolan, who accidentally kills a pregnant female killer whale and her offspring, which causes her male partner to seek revenge against him. The male orca begins to terrorize the town in which the fisherman is staying, eating various people and blowing up ships, until the townsfolk drive him out and he is forced to flee in his boat, with the angry orca hot in pursuit.
“I brought this gun to shoot him. Yes, yes I did. But I knew when it came time to do it, I couldn’t do it. So I got to thinking and I thought, Well, what if what you say is right. That whales can communicate. Then I thought I’d look at him. Right in the eye. And I’d tell him the killing of his wife and his child was a terrible accident. That I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean it. I’d tell him that I was sorry. I hope he’d forgive me.”
― Captain Nolan, Orca
The orca finally catches him up in the arctic, sinks his boat and leaves the fisherman stranded on an iceberg. Their eyes meet and the fisherman finally comes to terms with what he has done. Content that he has made his point, the orca swims off.
I loved the book. I was always a fan of whales but this made them even more intriguing to me.
When the movie was eventually made I was the first one in line at the theater. Popcorn in hand, I sat back and waited for the powerful final scene. A scene that ended up being very different than what I’d been expecting.
In the movie the orca flips up the fisherman and hits him with its tail like he was a beach ball at SeaWorld. The fisherman, broken beyond repair, sinks dead beneath the icy waters.
“What the fuuuuuuuuuuuck?!” I remember thinking, popcorn falling from my limp hands. It never occurred to me that a movie could differ from the book. I really thought that it was illegal or something to change key elements of the original story. I was truly devastated at the death of the fisherman.
Why do I mention this?
Because it taught me valuable lesson, one that I plan on remembering well as I begin to work on the movie adaptation of Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar. There is a certain responsibility that a writer has, both to the original author of a literary work as well as the audience that the film hopes to attract. A responsibility that cannot be taken lightly.
Especially considering that The Bell Jar deals with such difficult issues as suicide, mental illness, identity and social norms. Semi-autobiographical, it was the iconic poet’s only full-length novel.
I plan on making sure I show the humanity of the lead character, Esther Greenwood, as she faces her many struggles.
“But when it came right down to it, the skin of my wrist looked so white and defenseless that I couldn’t do it. It was as if what I wanted to kill wasn’t in that skin or the thin blue pulse that jumped under my thumb, but somewhere else, deeper, more secret, and a whole lot harder to get.”
― Esther Greenwood, The Bell Jar
The only slight change I will make is to the ending.
In the book Esther, who makes great progress in a mental hospital thanks to her psychologist Dr. Nolan‘s talk therapy, insulin injections, and electric shock therapy, leaves to continue her college education.
In the movie version, spoiler alert, Dr. Nolan will end up being the wife of Captain Nolan and will talk Esther into joining them for an excursion into arctic waters that will end with her being flipped up by an orca and hit with its tail like she was a beach ball at SeaWorld. Esther, broken beyond repair, will then sink dead beneath the icy waters.
Box office gold.
I think both Sylvia and Esther would approve.