photo source: Jane Austen Film Club
I have never been a big fan of Jane Eyre. I think it stems back to my childhood when I was terrified of everything. Not much has changed for me in that department, and therefore I very rarely seek out a film with excessive suspense or with a horror undertone, such as Jane Eyre. The classic piece of literature by Charlotte Brontë has been interpreted into film countless times, and the fact that the book is so well loved makes many in the audience forgive the redundancy of its remakes. However, how can a director possibly make something new out of such a classic? It is hardly worn out, and yet there are only so many ways you can depict plane Jane and her dashing costar heartthrob/bad boy Rochester.
I can't remember much from the other Jane Eyre films that I have seen--just that they all seemed very dark and rainy and that a lot of scary things happened in the house. I did of course remember the source of the scary happenings, and thus I was able to watch this film with little fear, even though I couldn't exactly recall what was about to happen next.
Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) is a typical heroine at first description, but her continued presence shows you how much of a novelty she really is and how she has possibly shaped the very idea of feminism itself. She had strength, even as a child, and had to endure such oppressions that her triumph in spite of them is a sure testament to her character.
Orphaned at a young age, she is sent to live with her aunt, who despises her and sends her off to a girls' school the first chance she gets. This is your typical boarding school where dropping a slate in class results in public humiliation, and girls are constantly being hit with a stick. I appreciated that in this rendition of the film, they did not dwell heavily on her mistreatment in either her aunt's home or the school. They showed enough that we understood, but did not draw it out and then call it entertainment and drama.
photo source: Very Jane Austen
Once she is grown, the story is a bit confusing to me. They show much of the film in flashback form. The beginning of the film is of Jane wandering the moor in a state of extreme sadness, whereupon she finds herself at the door of a pastor (Jamie Bell) and his sisters, who take her in and care for her. I did not remember this part of the story in the least bit, and because it jumped around a bit, I wasn't exactly sure who was who or what was going on until quite a ways into the film. For someone who can't even recall if I had to read the book for school, let alone the basic plot line, I think it is safe to say that I came at this film pretty blind, and upon finding the opening timeline difficult to follow, felt that this is a definite problem in the scripting department. It is possible that they created the film under the pretext that everyone has read the book, but clearly, those of us who are pretty sure that we haven't are going to have a difficult time sorting things out until Jane gets to Thornfield and the real meat of the story begins to happen.
Thornfield is the home that Jane moves to after leaving her school at the age of 18. She is to be a governess to a pretty French girl and it is here that she falls in love with dashing and abrasive Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Although they are in completely different social standings, Jane's upbringing had a likelihood of being in contact with very few men and thus she falls quite hard, quite fast. Although he tests her wit in a very rude manner on their first two meetings, she succeeds quite well in responding and his interest is peaked.
The chemistry between Wasikowska and Fassbender is palpable--similar to that between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. It is their performances that really make the film. They bring much to their characters, and although much context is given to them to perform, they do it extreme justice. I am led to believe that the novel is narrated by Jane, but the film is not, and thus Wasikowska was left the difficult task of communicating pages and pages of her character's thoughts on only her face. Their performances are especially good in the proposal scene, which was my favourite by far in the film.
If you haven't seen Jane Eyre, have not read Jane Eyre, or know little to nothing about it, I will say no more about the plot and how certain aspects were handled. There was one exchange involving a white dress and then a shocking revelation that seemed very rushed and was a slight let-down (and if you know the story, I hope you understand the reference). However, the costume design and acting were all top notch and if you have the two hours to spare, I would certainly recommend that you watch yet another rendition of Charlotte Brontë's masterpiece.