2.5 Stars out of 4
A film based on a Victorian novel like Jane Eyre is the best example of splitting audiences in two. For Jane Eyre lovers, I see them brooding in the darkness and stroking their chins with delight. The others who went for the romance will be scratching their heads. Because Jane Eyre is a romance the way Hamlet is a comedy. Traces of them exist but are squandered by a world unfit for such a genre.
Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte Bronte in 1847 and now re-adapted by Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre), should be subversive in its idealism. It’s a world of morals and religion, but those factors are being pushed by the rise of a feminist voice and the lowering one of patriarchy. Fukunaga’s last film enveloped a world of fear and poignance, whereas here this world has been so tossed around by such things it is now unabashed by them. Jane Eyre represents this post-world, or society that is in England.
Jane Eyre is played by Mia Wasikowska from Alice in Wonderland. Her performance is strong, embodying Jane without simple beauty but intelligence and an incredulity that could break through castle walls. At first we see her at her uncle’s home, the Reeds, abused by her siblings and blamed by her aunt (Sally Hawkins, underused). She is sent to Lowood School for Girls where the treatment is not much better, but more “deserved” because it is grounded in religion. Jane gives barely a peep and she is subject to utter humiliation by standing on a pedestal and being shunned by her students. Must be a religious criticism of Bronte’s.
Jane travels to Thornfield to become a governess of Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Judi Dench is Mrs. Fairfax, the keeper of Thornfield and has a strong role in the film acting as a commentary on Jane’s adjustment to a world, which was crafted by Bronte to make the book a Feminist Gothic. Fukunaga films Jane Eyre with the thick lighting, an azure haze and radiant outdoors. Must be a contrast about internal and external moods.
The most important element to Jane Eyre is Jane’s rivalry and affection shared with Rochester. This relationship exemplifies both opposite ends of gender, moral and political status. Rochester is a rich man who is hiding things from his past. We soon find that out through the arrival of a Byronic character, which poet Lord Byron called “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” Jane is a poor woman thrown into a reverent status, which she succumbs to on her own terms and finally rejects wholesomely.
I was not sure on how Fukunaga handled the chemistry between Rochester and Jane. I sensed much of the rivalry but not the affection. Both actors are in great control of their characters, being enigmatic and accessible at the same time. Rochester is a character of melodrama and Eyre is a character to herself; this mixture creates interesting dialogue but a lacklustre romance. I recall my first line of Jane Eyre about it not being a typical Romantic work, but it seems worried to layer the film in any sort of sexual tension. It could have made things more dramatic than passive.
The cinematography, shot by Adriano Goldman, is gorgeous creating an atmosphere that’s weather patterns could vary at any stroke of the clock. It is used appropriately when Jane marches through the forest in a chaotic storm. The scene was so manifested in tempestuousness that Jane reminded me of a female King Lear. A character walking off her wrongdoings in a sinner’s world. Not that Jane exactly commits an immoral act but she accidentally becomes involved in one by sticking to her steadfast, good intentions.
I will be honest though. I understand this film much better through internet research and English class, not the movie. The movie lacks subversiveness, drama, and interest. Too much is atmospheric with dialogue that does not reveal character as much as themes. This is a classic example when a director reads the meaning of the words properly just not the story. When the film ends nothing is accomplished or realized. It doesn’t go “boom” like that aforementioned thunderstorm.
This is a full-bore example of a Victorian book re-adapted into mesmerizing performances and hypnotic atmosphere. But unlike Bronte’s work, it does not hammer anything home and it does not know exactly what theme would make Jane Eyre most valuable. Avid readers of Bronte will enjoy it for its accuracy in adaptation and how important themes are mentioned often. But I think they are not tinkered with enough. I did not find Jane Eyre very entertaining, and I usually find Gothic tales very enjoyable. It’s a slog of a film based on the material of a masterpiece.