Saturday, May 28, 2011

Jane Eyre

Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Starring: Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre), Michael Fassbender (Edward Rochester),
Judi Dench (Mrs. Fairfax), Sally Hawkins (Mrs. Reed)
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hr. 1 min.
Release Date: Mar 11, 2011


In the most recent movie adaption of Jane Eyre, director Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) crafts a unique version of the Charlotte Brontë tale. The movie begins midway through the novel as Jane (Mia Wasikowska) rushes from a mansion in the English countryside, trudging through the sodden muck of the moors, and presenting us with the possibility that the woman we are watching may not survive her journey. Fortunately, she is rescued by the clergyman (Jamie Bell) upon whose doorstep she has finally collapsed. From here the story progresses through flashbacks, revealing the people and situations that have led Jane to this point in time. In her childhood, the poorly treated orphan is physically and emotionally abused, first by her own family at the home of her aunt (Sally Hawkins) in Gateshead, and then by the staff at Lowood school, where Jane was promptly abandoned. A mature Jane eventually arrives at the home of Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender) to begin her employment as governess of Thornfield Hall. Here, Jane’s unyielding convictions are challenged when a twist in the story causes her head to battle against her heart.

The film concentrates on the important aspects of the novel, such as Jane’s determination to forge her own lot in life, (a rarity for women during the Victorian era in which the story takes place), and the courage to always embrace the pride within herself. The fortitude that this character continually maintains makes it easy to see why the novel is considered an important early feminist work.


Wasikowska is a fine choice to play Jane, as her physical appearance provides an ideal representation of understated beauty. Her performance, however, came across a little too sedate. During the time in which these stories take place, politely guarded conversation between the sexes could only hint at the emotional chaos that brewed beneath the surface. In order to translate this onto film, actors must be able to convey this hidden passion to the audience. However, the fire that was supposedly burning under Wasikowska’s cool exterior seemed dim and, at times, completely extinguished. Luckily, Fassbender turned in an electric performance as Rochester, successfully providing the intended spark between Jane and her beloved. Another actor worth mentioning is the always brilliant Judi Dench, who plays Mrs. Fairfax, housekeeper of Thornfield Hall. This character reveals much of the necessary back story on Rochester and acts as a sounding board for and mentor to Jane. Dench skillfully downplays her grand talent for this minor but significant role, creating a simple yet endearing character.


The finest achievement of the film is no doubt its cinematography, with the lovely dreariness of the landscape perfectly reflecting the story’s bleak tone. The exquisite details of Thornfield's architecture and decor serve to further immerse the audience in a gorgeous and authentic experience.

The film freshly highlights the darker aspects of the narrative, providing a fantastically mysterious and haunting version of the tale; (an approach that has been all but absent in earlier film adaptations). Despite all that the film has going for it, however, the lack of passion and scene development causes the movie to fall short of the masterpiece it could have been.

It is soon after Jane’s arrival at Thornfield when hopes begin to rise, tensions start to build, and where, sadly, the momentum falls flat and remains on the this monotonous terrain until the end of the journey. Early scenes between Jane and Rochester held promise, bursting with smart dialogue and quick exchanges. Glimpsing the fervor beneath their banter, we optimistically anticipated the liberating culmination of their carefully controlled interactions. We hoped to witness an uninhibited declaration of love, the freedom of the newly unbound spirit— or at least some reprieve from the uninspiring display we had thus far experienced. Alas, when the characters decide to bear their souls, it is spiritless and indistinguishable from the lackluster scenes that occurred before and after it. Rochester sedately declares his love and abruptly proposes to Jane, leaving the audience to wonder if they had missed a scene somewhere. One second we are observing the early budding of a romance and the next second it’s suddenly in full bloom. The lack of graduality in this and other parts of the film made it seem as though pieces were randomly dropped from the complete puzzle of the plot.

The Final Wrap:

One of the strongest aspects of Jane and Rochester’s relationship is that they look beyond their physical selves and are attracted to something intrinsically deeper— each other’s souls. This film appears to be just the opposite. Here, ideal beauty is of the utmost importance and it is the soul of the movie that is lacking. It seems that in his attempt to break the story down to its bare essentials, Fukunaga opted to omit much of the romanticism that defines this type of drama. One can understand that the director’s intention was to present the essential concepts of the story, devoid of all the frills. However, when something is whittled down to its bare bones, sometimes all we are left with is a skeleton of what the masterpiece once was.

This is a solid movie and certainly worth seeing, however, you would do well not to expect the emotional grandeur you’ve come to expect from the gothic novel.

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