It starts like this: a woman (the narrator) is in her home meditating about her love life. She talks about the men of her past (including in this category her father and brother), the difference between serious and silly loves. The whole line of thought is triggered because earlier that day she had had lunch with A (the first man she loved), tea with B (the second man she loved) and was getting reading for an evening with a possible C (the next man she will love). She pretends to pick up the phone to talk to C but suddenly feels a slippery, heavy, wet object in her hand. It is her heart. She feels ashamed of the sight of her inflated heart and tries to get rid of it when she discovers it is stuck to her palm. She then wraps it in tin foil to spare it from the pain and spare herself from the view of the object. Four days pass, she hasn’t left the apartment, hasn’t slept, the heart is now growing on the flesh of her fingers. She is looking out the window and observes a scene: there’s a woman on the street, her heels tapping on the sidewalk; just when she is ready to cross the street, two pigeons in a synchronized movement cross the picture on an angle. The sight of this unexpected beautiful urban moment makes the narrator forget about everything, her heart then detaches a bit from her hand. The way of getting rid of the heart is by letting herself be surprised. She puts on a coat and leaves, heading to Round Pond. She takes the subway, the hand and the heart wrapped on a scarf. On the train there is a crazy woman talking to herself about a lost love. The whole car observes her, mockingly. The narrator observes the scene for a while, the heart rolls off her hand, onto her lap. A stylized silver heart. She then takes it and offers it, as a gift, to the crazy woman before leaving the train, heartless, free.

There are many reasons why I think this story should be adapted. The author, of course, is one of them. Doris Lessing was quite an extraordinary woman. A Nobel Prize winner at the age of eighty-eight (the 11th woman to ever be awarded one)! She lived all around the globe, being born in Iran and growing up in Zimbabwe. This self-educated British lady wrote her final book at the age of eighty-nine. Finding the book (Stories) in which this story was published was hard (and we are in New York City), which just increased my will to conceptualize this adaptation. If ever made, it could bring more light to her wonderful life work. Stories was first published in America in 1978. Who could ever tell that by reading the story? If it wasn’t for the fact that she picks up a phone and not a smart phone, there would be no way of recognizing this story was published thirty-six years ago. The writing is so beautifully modern, her way of putting things, her topics… Moreover, I could write a whole paper on how amazingly feminist the text is. The narrator is (almost) what one would call an independent woman: she talks about the loves she has had, the serious ones and the “tasting and sampling” (and she’s definitely had a lot of those samples). Lessing talks about feminine sexual emancipation in a very natural way, so much that we need a second (or third) read to realize how much she inverts the traditional ideas about women who have “sipped or tasted.” She says: “[…] a very attractive woman […] with a mellowness that I would be the first to admit is the sad harbinger of age, but is attractive by definition, because it is a testament to the amount of sampling and sipping.” In a world in which women have to be cast before marriage and then castrated by their husbands, this is a greatly inverted statement. Lessing attacks female magazines by saying, “I was in that state of mind (in which we all so often are) of thinking: He might turn out to be the one. (I use a woman’s magazine phrase deliberately here, instead of saying, as I might: Perhaps it will be serious.).” She directly relates the protagonist’s infinite quest for love to the media and how (and what) women are nurtured to feel and want. By losing, or rather, giving up her heart (a heart she felt utterly ashamed of) the woman liberates herself from the romantic love myth, the vicious (masochist) cycle of desiring, having, losing, suffering. She becomes the ultimate feminist, a woman that only needs herself to survive, or rather, live. I find that in How I Finally Lost My Heart, Lessing uses a very light, funny even, style which makes the story so delightful to read. She talks about the men/women interactions almost scientifically in a way that it becomes like a game: “one must search for an A, or a B, or a C or a D with a certain combination of desirable or sympathetic qualities so that one may click.” The mathematical aspect of the romantic quest makes it so that anyone can relate to it, we are not talking about a person or another (because with the person comes feelings, story and personality) but about A, B and C. Each different reader can assign to the letters and symbols the A, B and C of their own lives. Her descriptions of feelings and interactions are (for the most part) very visual, metaphorical: “Actually one carries with one a sort of burning spear stuck in one’s side, that one waits for someone else to pull out,” which makes the adaptation of this text so interesting to me. Finally, this is also a story about big cities (streets, pigeons, corners, encounters, underground…) and how living surrounded by people with whom you eventually share a moment (even if it is a fraction of seconds during which two glares cross) can be very healing. I can relate to that and I think many people will too.

Now, this is how I would do it: I am visualizing this as a short film. Structurally the film is divided into three parts. The first part is her thinking about her past and the patterns of romantic interaction. The second part starts when she grabs her heart. And the third part starts when she sees the woman from her window. Part one is very visual. A voice over is reciting Lessing’s text (maybe not integrally) while we see, graphically, the words and mathematics she is trying to explain. For example: “It would be easy to say that I picked up a knife, slit open my side, took my heart out, and threw it away;” here we should see a close up of a woman doing exactly as described in the text, cutting herself open and taking her heart from her chest. Right after comes this part: “but unfortunately it wasn’t as easy as that. Not that I, like everyone else, had not often wanted to do it. No, it happened differently, and not as I expected.” We would watch the same scene in reverse. When talking about A, B, C, etc, we see men with symbols for heads. All of this in very fast cuts, graphically moving us forward through her thoughts. The second part is very different. As soon as the heart is in the picture we do not have a voice-over anymore. It is a naturalistic (can I call it realistic?) approach to the story. We are pulled away from her mind to deal with her heart, a real, palpable situation. We watch her discover the heart and try to throw it away, but it is stuck. She “held [her] hand with the heart stuck on it over the side of the chair so that it could drip into a bucket” and smokes a cigarette. Wraps it in tin foil, then in a scarf. She calls C and cancels the plans. This is where I would change the story: instead of all this happening in the course of four (or could it be five?) days, it would all happen in one day. A couple of hours after the appearance of her heart, she sees the woman. That happens in slow motion, it is a moment, a fraction of something, a second (maybe two, maybe ten). The third part is much more confusing in my head and I think it will (and definitely should) be as confusing on the screen. We are neither inside nor outside her mind. We drift back and forward. The voice-over is back. We still see things as they are and sometimes (when the narrator gets caught in her thoughts) we see some graphical, power-point-like visuals. The same actress plays the narrator and the crazy, disillusioned woman on the train. The ending is the trickiest part. As described in the story, the narrator gets up from her seat and hands her silver heart to the crazy woman before leaving the train. At that point the graphic visuals and the naturalistic ones appear in equal frequency. At the very end, when she leaves the train, before she even touches the ground of the train station… cut to black and we hear: “No heart. No heart at all. What bliss. What freedom …”

Julia Anquier’s “The Best Adaptation Never Made” won first prize in the Third Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. Julia is in the Film program at SVA. She was born in Paris, and in 2011 she received her Baccalauréat (Serie L) with Mention Tres Bein in Brazil. Julia has written and directed a number of short films and documentaries, while working for Studio 65 in New York City as a member of their Film Research Department. Prior to working for Studio 65, Julia spent time with Flint Productions in London as a Production Assistant and Assistant Editor. Most recently, Julia worked as the assistant casting director for the Stephen Daldry film, Trash, and she was eventually promoted to Assistant Director Trainee.