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Home » Culture and Criticism

27/31: Jane Eyre and the art of getting to the point

Submitted by on December 28, 2011 – 12:01 AM19 Comments

Cary Fukunaga's adaptation of Jane Eyre is gorgeous — and savvy. Fukunaga and adapter Moira Buffini understand what everyone's come for, which is what everyone's come for since the nineteenth century: a woman who is neither conventionally pretty nor polite nor willing to compromise still lands her great love. The extended privations of Lowood, the endless Socratic dialogues with St. John about free will and moral relativism: nobody cares. The repeated pranking of Thornfield by Bertha Rochester (Jessica Chastain) (just kidding!) (OR AM I), at such unquestioned length that the manse's other denizens all begin to seem a bit dim: get on with it. Get Jane to the house, get her to the church, get her on the moor, burn the fucker down, wife's dead, path's clear, done.

The look of Jane Eyre is breathtaking, all the different sorts of fog, the low light that lets characters move about like ghosts. The casting is great, too; as I've said at some length elsewhere, the Jane part is difficult to fill, because Bronte never tires of pointing out Jane's homeliness, and when you do find an actor with an adequately plain mien and who can portray Jane's velvet-hammer interior life, good luck selling her on "you're plain, teeny, stubborn, and won't make out with Rochester even when he's played by Michael Fassbender and wearing only a nightie." BECAUSE COME ON.

But Mia Wasikowska slots in perfectly; she's pretty, but she can play plain, and you can tell it kills her to resist Rochester and flee. Her face gives the right combination of fleeting emotions and their quick tamping. Fassbender is also very good, playing Rochester with less one-note glowering thunder than the novel usually indicates, and Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax is nice and brisk. (Her expression when she comes upon Jane and Rochester canoodling is hilarious.) All in all, a shrewd adaptation that uses flashbacks to good effect, tones down some of the dickishness in the text, and freshens up the classic.

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19 Comments »

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Mmm hmmm. They handled the gypsy palm reading scene well, and St. John was less of a one note tool then in previous adaptions. Plus, Fassbender. Hello. Considering I just watched the guy having loveless, self hating sex for two hours in Shame, these memories are most welcome.

  • Sarahnova says:

    Jeez, is Michael Fassbender in everything this year? (I'd complain, but, you know, Michael Fassbender.)

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    You mean Fassica Chasbender? Yeah, a few things. Hee.

  • attica says:

    I'm finding myself upset that Jamie Bell is a grownup playing grownups now. How is this possible!?!?

  • Jas says:

    I spent a long time trying to figure out why Mia Wasikowska seemed so familiar at certain points in that movie, until it finally struck me: she cries like Claire Danes in MSCL! She really has the Angela face-crumple down quite well.

  • Tylia says:

    "I'm finding myself upset that Jamie Bell is a grownup playing grownups now. How is this possible!?!?" Right?!?! Seriously. You are supposed to stay Billy Elliot size forever. Also, it terrifies me that I find you kind of hot, because you were Billy Elliot. Stop it!

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Dang, those doomy Christian sideburns used to be Billy Elliott? Didn't even catch that.

  • Seankgallagher says:

    I said this when commenting on Couch Baron's review of this movie, but it bears repeating; I know Wasikowska best from "In Treatment", where she played a suicidal teen, and on that show, she was playing someone whose emotions seemed to be ripped out of her as she was experiencing them, and it was heartbreaking to watch. Jane Eyre is the complete opposite, as she's always keeping a lid on how she feels, and I though Wasikowska was brilliant at doing that, and yet letting us see the turmoil she felt underneath.

  • Suzanne B. says:

    "Get Jane to the house, get her to the church, get her on the moor, burn the fucker down, wife's dead, path's clear, done."

    … aaaaand

    "… good luck selling her on "you're plain, teeny, stubborn, and won't make out with Rochester even when he's played by Michael Fassbender and wearing only a nightie." BECAUSE COME ON."

    Hey Sars – have I told you that it is my New Year's Resolution to tell you … how YOU ARE AWESOME? Like, once a week? Because IT IS.

    :D

    To the point, though (I can stay on topic! I can!) this: "The look of Jane Eyre is breathtaking, all the different sorts of fog, the low light that lets characters move about like ghosts …"

    reminds me of one especially awesome part: when Jane is tilting the lantern just so, to get a better look at the luscious flesh in the nude painting in the hallway. Purrr. Plus, the lighting reminded me of how damn *dark* those big old houses must have been, in that day and age. All the better to haunt you with, my dear? Except Bertha Rochester was a lot more "Christine-Daaé-finally-snapped" and less "AIE IT'S THE VAMPYR" than I was expecting. *shrugs*

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    hee, thanks.

  • Colin says:

    Yes, all of this, exactly. I was a little unsure, at first, about the decision to start the film in medium librum*, but it ended up winning me over for exactly the reasons you mention. I love the book for letting us marinate in Jane's private psychic life; I'm not sure I'd love that movie.

    Also, Michael Fassbender, enough said.

    Also also, Jamie Bell! Re: attica and Tylia, it'd bother me more if those sideburns weren't so strangely foxy.

    * It took me way too long to figure out how to adapt "in medias res" for a second declension singular noun. Leaving aside for a moment the pretentious compulsion that necessitated such a thing in the first damn place, I'm afraid I have to turn in my Latin geek card. Sigh.

  • attica says:

    Aaaand now I've got "Doom-y Christian Si-ii-ideburns/ Marching as to war!" all stuck in my head. ::shakes fist::

  • JennyB says:

    Oh, Fassbender in a nightie. Gorgeous indeed.

  • Suzanne B. says:

    @ attica – HEE!

    I see your: "Doom-y Christian Si-ii-ideburns/ Marching as to war!"

    and raise you:

    "The Sideburns' one founda-aa-a-aation / is St. John's foxy fa-a-a-a-aace!"

  • attica says:

    Need to throw a little love at Sally Hawkins as Aunt Reed. Sally is usually in roles of ebullient or kind women, and to see her here so austere, severe, and stock-still is rad. Great casting decision.

  • Erin W says:

    you can tell it kills her to resist Rochester and flee.
    That was my absolute favorite scene in the movie. So many versions skip it, some versions make her very judgmental of Rochester, some play it like it's no big thing. I love that this version let Jane drag herself away, practically weeping. It's not a decision she wanted to make.

  • Lilin says:

    I'm late, but yes, god, yes, Fassbender defined Rochester the way Firth defined Darcy. And Rochester is a harder (modern) role because he's basically a horrible human being and a pouting baby. Wasikowska is a great Jane Eyre.

    One caveat – Jane Eyre is supposed to be a passionate person who is literally forced into repression to survive her circumstances. She's gotten beaten or starved or frozen or terrified every time she's ever acted out. The passion is why she connects with Rochester. I've never seen a script do justice to that side of her.

  • Sarah says:

    Finally got around to watching, and Sars, you're spot on. So beautiful, so evocative, and gorgeous to watch.

    And the cast. Well, yeah. As Lilin says, Fassbender is to Rochester as Firth is to Darcy. Why did I wait so long to see this movie?

  • Sandman says:

    I can't speak for Sarah, above, but I can tell you why *I* took so long to see this one: Because the other adaptations that I've seen have been mostly awful. (And I'm not even that attached to the novel.) Wasikowska and Fassbender may not have the space, within the frame of the movie, to elaborate the entire inner lives of their characters, but they make it abundantly clear that Jane and Rochester have them. They both do a great job with suggesting and illuminating, where other adaptations, I think, insisted on expounding and cataloguing. Wasikowska, in particular, handles Jane's self-constraint wonderfully. By the time she got to the "poor, obscure, plain, and little" speech I was close to tears. Gorgeous, deeply felt, thrilling, brisk but gloriously alive.

    @Suzanne B.: Right?

    Also: Fassica Chasbender, hee! And you're not wrong.

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