May 20, 2011
Review - " Jane Eyre " - (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judi
Dench, Holliday Grainger, Sally Hawkins, Tamzin Merchant and
The plot is perhaps a bit condensed (there is, after all, only so much
time an audience is willing to sit in a movie theater), but the themes
of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel remain perfectly intact. The story
is one of maturation, resilience, and self reliance, and while such
stories are hardly original, there is something immensely satisfying
about a female character working her way through a male-dominated
society. The novel itself was groundbreaking in its positive depiction
of a female protagonist.
The depiction of the title character hasn’t much changed. She is
outspoken and intelligent, a young woman of high morals who
desires nothing more than a full life. In spite of her bleak childhood –
an aunt who despised her, a pious boarding school where she was
regularly beaten and humiliated, the death of her best friend – she
lives in the moment and learns to hold no grudges. As portrayed in
the film by Mia Wasikowska, there’s an appropriate balance between
Jane Eyre’s determination and her nondescript appearance; when it
comes to striking physical features, only her eyes are noticeable, not
because of makeup but because they truly do reveal the person
within. Wasikowska is not classically beautiful – compared to, say,
Elizabeth Taylor or Angelina Jolie – but she has proven herself
remarkably adaptable when it comes to her roles (between “Alice in
Wonderland” and “The Kids Are All Right,” you’d swear two different
actresses had been cast).
The crux of the story is her relationship with Edward Rochester (Michael Fassenbender), a character whose “ill
humor” masks deep regret and the capacity to love. He is the wealthy master of Thornfield Manor and has been
saddled with a ward, an emotional but innocent French girl named Adèle (Romy Settbon Moore). Although Jane is
hired as the young girl’s governess, she and Rochester don’t officially meet until he falls off his horse,
spraining his ankle. The two soon begin
having regular fireside conversations, where
it’s made abundantly clear that he doesn’t
see Jane as a mere servant; he finds her
honesty, independence, and morality
intriguing, and he allows her to speak to him
as an equal. Their complicated relationship
escalates to love, but a secret threatens to
tear them apart, one that ties into strange,
almost supernatural occurrences. Why do
thuds emanate from the walls every night?
How did a fire start in Rochester’s bedroom?
The novel is so well known, and there have
been many film adaptations, so I’m fairly
certain we all by now know what the secret is.
Regardless, I will refrain from revealing it.
I will say that, given the nature of Victorian
novels, especially one with gothic influences,
the secret couldn’t be more appropriate.
This version depicts it tragically rather than horrifically, in effect earning the audience’s sympathy. Keeping a distant
but watchful eye over the situation is the Thornfield housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench), who treats Jane
kindly but urges caution when it comes to Rochester. Apart from Jane, she’s the film’s best character.
The film is structured non-linearly; it opens with Jane running away from Thornfield and arriving near death at the doorstep
of St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters.
We then see snippets of her childhood, first
in the home of her spiteful aunt, Sarah Reed
(Sally Hawkins), then at Lowood School,
where the young girls have the fear of God
literally beaten into them. Jane’s relationship
with St. John is the weakest subplot; although
there are parallels between what they share
and what Jane shared with Rochester, not
enough time is spent on it to make it clear.
That being said, Bell does a fantastic job as
the decent but reserved and single-minded
clergyman, and his delivery compliments
Wasikowska’s nicely. This one is not my
favorite version of Jane Eyre but a worthy
addition none the less. Overall, 2011’s “Jane
Eyre” is a fine piece of work – more gothic in
tone and at times a bit moody, but strong in
character and theme.