Jane Eyre Sometimes Gloomy, Sometimes Lively
- Christian Hamaker
- 2011 18 Mar
DVD Release Date: August 16, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: March 11, 2011 (limited); March 18, 2011 (wider)
Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements including a nude image and brief violent content)
Genre: Drama, Adaptation
Run Time: 115 min.
Director: Cary Fukunawa
Actors: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench, Jamie Bell, Sally Hawkins, Freya Parks
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: Hollywood has no new ideas. For every work of original storytelling, there seem to be 20 or 30 sequels, comic-book adaptations and franchise “reboots.”
But the tendency to remake and re-do isn’t limited to stories from the 1970s to now. Hollywood sometimes looks way back when searching for stories it can retell to audiences hungry for familiarity.
Hence the latest film adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, a novel adapted nearly 20 times, as far back as 1914 and as recently as 2006. A moral story of a mistreated young woman who finds unexpected love with an older man and then stands by her principles when the man turns out to be married, Jane Eyre continues to appeal to modern audiences.
That attraction is only intermittently evident in this latest version of Jane Eyre, from director Cary Fukunawa (Sin Nombre). Dark and suffocating during its first half hour, it catches fire with its introduction of Rochester (Michael Fassbender, Jonah Hex). His verbal sparring with Jane (Mia Wasikowska), a governess who has moved to his estate to look after his ward, livens up the movie.
The classic tale should be familiar to viewers—perhaps too familiar, which may explain why Fukunawa and screenwriter Moira Buffini (Tamara Drewe) have, unwisely if not fatally, fractured the story’s timeline. While the novel delivers a straightforward sequence of events, the film puts the onus on the audience to piece together the plot as the movie slowly reveals the different periods of Jane’s story.
In the book, those periods begin with Jane’s persecution in the home of her cruel aunt Mrs. Reed (Sally Hawkins, Never Let Me Go) and spoiled male cousin; her time under the supervision of a stern schoolmaster, who, on the word of Jane’s aunt, believes Jane to be a serial liar and punishes her accordingly; Jane’s experience working for Rochester; her disillusionment with Rochester and fleeing of Thornfield Hall; her return to normalcy in the home of clergyman St. John Rivers and his sisters; and her subsequent return to Thornfield and Rochester.
The new film opens with a disoriented Jane running away from Thornfield (although it’s not identified as that) and walking the moors, where she ends up outside the home of Rivers (Jamie Bell, Defiance). She’s weak and overcome, but by what we don’t yet know. The story then flashes back to Jane’s tortured early life. Sent to live with her aunt and uncle (who subsequently dies), she suffers under the hand of Mrs. Reed, who sends the unwanted girl to live year-round at a dismal boarding school. There, Jane befriends Helen Burns (Freya Parks). It’s Helen who speaks of spiritual matters as something other than stern truths to be uttered upon punishment for perceived misbehavior; she’s told by a the headmaster to stand on the “pedestal of infamy”; asked where the wicked go after death; ordered to define hell and explain how to avoid it; told that her corporal punishment is the way to “mortify the flesh.”
But Helen, who will die an early death, leaves Jane with another legacy. She explains to Jane the existence of a “world of spirits commissioned to guide,” then lets Jane know that she is soon “going home to God.”
Jane’s other female mentor is Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench, Nine), the housekeeper at Thornfield. The older woman takes Jane under her wing and warns her not to fall for Rochester, whose personal situation is far more complicated than Jane knows.
But fall for Rochester she does, and on the verge of marrying him, she learns of his marriage to another. Jane’s compass points her away from Thornfield when Rochester shows her his wife, a mentally disturbed woman he keeps hidden away. Although he tempts Jane to live with him in sin by telling her that “fate” has “dealt me a blow,” his insistence that he will get pleasure in life no matter the cost to himself or others sends Jane fleeing into the care of Rivers. However, Rivers’ noble intentions are no match for Jane’s feelings for Rochester, despite Rochester’s betrayal of Jane.
Jane Eyre’s most potent moments are in its dialogue, carried over from Bronte’s novel. Religion is an important element in the film, but it comes to the fore only later in the film. Because of the fractured timeline, Jane’s embrace of the scriptural truths she utters toward the end of the story don’t feel as organic as they might have had the story been told in a sequential manner. But what’s left in this new adaptation are several mentions of timeless truths and moral principles.
This version of Jane Eyre will challenge viewers who think they’re getting a more modern spin on a traditional story, and may disappoint devotees of the novel who expect to see a clearer development of Jane’s moral compass.
Is the glass half full or half empty? That’s a question that can be answered only after seeing Fukunawa’s film. This new Jane Eyre has much to recommend, but anyone expecting the glass to be completely full had better adjust their expectations beforehand.
- Language/Profanity: None.
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Rochester smokes and drinks; later scene of drinking that may be medicinal.
- Sex/Nudity: Nude female figure in a painting; kissing.
- Violence/Crime: A young man pursues Jane with a play sword and strikes her with a book; she fights back; Jane runs into a door and knocks herself out; a student is struck on the back of the neck; Jane treats a wound on a man’s neck
- Religion/Morals: Jane is told to pray for forgiveness lest something come down the chimney and take her away; Jane is asked if she knows where the wicked go after death; when she replies, “To hell,” she’s asked to define hell and explain how she might avoid it; a man says he will “root out the wickedness in this sad, ungrateful plant” (meaning Jane); Jane says her deceased mother and father can see her aunt, who is a liar, and that they will judge her; Jane is punished by being put on the “pedestal of infamy” and shunned by other children; Helen tells Jane that a kingdom of spirits exists, and that, when Helen dies, she’ll be going home; Adele’s mother is said to have “gone to the Holy Virgin”; multiple scenes of people saying grace before a meal; Jane extends full and free forgiveness to someone who wronged her; Rochester refers to his wife as “my own demon”; an assertion that God intends Jane to be a missionary’s wife.
Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at [email protected].