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Film Review: Jane Eyre (2011)

Jane Eyre (2011; Directed by Cary Fukunaga)

Soooo... about those noises in the attic...

Cary Fukunaga’s sleek and sumptuous adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel boasts considerable atmosphere, an accomplished visual pedigree, and soulful, nuanced central performances from its young stars. But it advances a truncated version of Bronte’s complex and rich narrative that privileges the love story (which my partner Liz calls “the stupid part”) while eliding the social commentary, the proto-feminism, and the freaky gothic weirdness at the core of the tale.

This is understandable for any film version, and Jane Eyre, stripped of everything else, is primarily a love story. But there are odd choices in the adaptation, in particular the decision not to reveal familial relations between Jane and the Riverses. Furthermore, opening with Jane’s flight from Thornfield (which is virtually repeated, shot-for-shot, when it arises later in the film) presages the whole plot in melodramatic terms that Fukunaga’s film, as expertly pitched as it is at times, never quite escapes. As always, the awful strangeness of Rochester locking his unhinged wife in a hidden room for years isn’t sufficiently imparted in all of its grand gothic grotesquerie. Jane’s traumatic youth at Lowood is also merely sketched, leaving us with vague Dickensian echoes as opposed to Bronte’s rigid moral outrage.

The Stupid Part

Indeed, Jane’s own principled independence suffers more than a little due to the amping up of the romantic plot. As formidable as Mia Wasikowska is in the role, her walls crumble at the merest affection from Rochester (Michael Fassbender, who is a bit too dashing and not nearly crotchety and bizarre enough), which does the Jane Eyre character a bit of a disservice. The early scenes between the leads are great stuff, of course, formed as terse, borderline-hostile exchanges of trenchant philosophical wit. But the later hand-clenching and oath-bandying on windswept stone bridges (someone might have been mixing up their Brontes) refigures these initial interactions as the bit of the romantic comedy where the leads start off hating each other, before the inevitable detente and rapprochement.

Amidst the various quibbles, I must give praiseful mention to the visual design of the film. Apart from the expected (and beautiful) wide shots of Romanticist isolation on the moors and the funereal interiors of Thornfield, Fukunaga and his Brazilian cinematographer Adriano Goldman do a remarkable job capturing the depth of darkness of pre-electric, non-gaslight English country house life. A guttering candle bravely resisting the inevitable darkness is a keen metaphor for the moral struggles of Jane and Rochester, and it’s an image that stays with you well after the romantically-heaving bosoms fade.

Categories: Film, Reviews
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  1. May 25, 2014 at 10:27 am

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