Jane Eyre (2011)
Directed By: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Screenplay: Moira Buffini
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, & Judi Dench
Adapted from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
A mousy governess who softens the heart of her employer soon discovers that he’s hiding a terrible secret.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, every now and then you read a book that changes your life. It changes how you think, takes you somewhere you’ve never been – in short, grafts itself onto your DNA and becomes part of your person forevermore. Jane Eyre is just such a transformative instrument for me. That being the case, it’s hard for me to honestly review any adaptation of a most treasured book and story. It’s such a good story, that it’s been adapted very often for television in both movies and a series or two. Of course I have yet to find an adaptation that lives up to what my own imagination generates, but that line of thinking is too coarse and needs leniency. I think we can all agree that the book is very nearly ALWAYS better than the movie. But I’m not reviewing the book, I’m reviewing another person’s visual interpretation of a book. I have to be fair. So, that in mind, last night I sat down to watch this film and studiously took notes. I actually found that I enjoyed the movie – even though I would change a thing or two to meet with my own preference.
I love that this treatment begins in the middle of the story. There’s such a big twist in the middle of the book and it’s highlighted beautifully! It opens with Jane wandering the moors and obviously miserable. The lighting and the look of the movie is muted, like daylight on the moors. The music is exactly right – full of rich highs and doleful lows. You’re left wondering “what awful thing happened to this poor girl that has left her wandering, and nearly dying?”, and the flashbacks do not disappoint.
There was just a little bit of the Reids’ home in the beginning – the scene in the red room was a bit over-dramatized, but it accomplished its effect. You felt that Jane had been wronged and you wanted her to escape from her situation. When the scenes at Lowood Institution came up, you could feel the draft coming through the walls and the poor treatment the girls received and the poignant, sad death of Helen Burns. What is lacking about the recollection of those years are the good things that happened which Jane benefited from: Ms. Temple (of whom there is no mention) and the improvement of conditions after the typhus outbreak. It would have softened the blow of a difficult childhood, so I wonder if that was on purpose.
As far as Jane and Rochester, I think they look okay together – just about as opposite as they can be and should be. I didn’t sense a lot of chemistry and I thought the writing allowed too few purposefully bantering exchanges where Jane and Edward trade wits. Jane seemed cold, but in the book we get a lot of internal dialogue. On top of that, her character is one that isn’t easily swayed to err – she always wants to do right and so is cautious of her words and movements. Absent of internal dialogue that might just be how she comes across. I’m not sure she’s my favorite Jane as far as her looks, but she certainly had the look of “poor, obscure, plain and little”. Fassbender as Rochester – well he’s too good looking and you could sometimes catch his Irish brogue. In my mind Rochester is more rugged – but I’m not complaining! I didn’t mind looking at his face for a couple of hours!
How It Stands Against the Book
I’m reviewing this assuming you’ve read the book – and if you haven’t I highly recommend you do so. (There’s my bias showing…I shall attempt to contain it henceforth.😉) Of course movies have a time limit so they, by nature, cannot convey everything that a 38-chapter, 524-page book (my copy is, at least). It was understandable then, when it came to the scene of the Eshton’s at Thornfield that the screenplay writer omitted the scene with the gypsy. I like to see how each adaptation treats this scene, but you don’t really miss it because Mason arrives and launches the plot forward.
One problem I did have was the addition of a vampiristic implication. First, Adele mentions it, then Richard Mason’s injury was on his neck rather than his shoulder, with no mention of a stab wound as it was in the book. I’m not sure why it was implied – artistic license? The rending of Jane’s veil is also omitted, but I think if they were trying to put forward the “vampire” vibe it would make sense to leave it out.
Once Jane is established at the Rivers’ home, the detail that they are, in fact, cousins is omitted. It doesn’t really detract from the story, though, because Jane expresses her wish of being their family clearly. Also omitted is St. John’s love interest, Rosamond Oliver, but that also doesn’t detract from the theme or take away the point that St. John is too dutiful and over-pious, thus making him a poor match for a passionate woman like Jane. I think one of the most important moments in the book that the movie captures perfectly is the moment that Rochester’s spirit calls out for Jane’s and she HEARS it. That moment sets her on the course for the rest of her life and I was glad to see it in this treatment. (It isn’t eluded to again or confirmed by Rochester, because the ending is abrupt, but we’ll get into that in a bit.)
We also need to take a second to recognize the indefatigable Mrs. Fairfax as portrayed by Dame Judy Dench. I mean….it doesn’t get better than Judy Dench. She brought a grandmotherly feel to Mrs. Fairfax. One of my favorite scenes in the movie, which is NOT in the book is when Mrs. Fairfax confesses she didn’t know about Bertha Mason, and says, “Why did you not come to me, child? I had a little money saved, I could have helped you!” She then hugs her. Like a grandma would. …IWANTJUDIDENCHTOADOPTME…*wipes brow* There! I said it. Moving on!
The movie ends a bit abruptly, but very sweetly. Instead of meeting again in Rochester’s secluded country house, they meet again in the middle of a field. You can clearly denote his blindness, however, why he’s sitting in the middle of a field alone when he’s clearly blind, I’m not sure. He says that he feels that he’s coming out of a dream when he realizes it’s Jane before him and claims he doesn’t believe his senses, to which she replies, “Awaken, then,” as they embrace and the movie closes. I didn’t like that at first, but the more I think about the ending the more I like it. They kept it simple – a story of two people’s love and who are finally together after so much anguish on both their parts.
Like I have said, for me, the book will always outshine any movie. What I missed was the chemistry between Jane and Edward, the lack of swoons. But what I loved was the way the timeline unfolded, the mood of the movie, the score, and the cuteness of Michael Fassbender. I did like this movie overall, and will definitely watch it again.
Have you seen any adaptations of Jane Eyre? What are your thoughts?