Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011 12:09 am by Cristina in , ,    2 comments
Jane Eyre 
Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Produced by Alison Owen Paul Trijbits
Screenplay by Moira Buffini
Based on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Mia Wasikowska
Michael Fassbender
Jamie Bell
Judi Dench
Music by Dario Marianelli
Cinematography Adriano Goldman
Editing by Melanie Oliver
Release date(s) 11 March 2011 (United States: limited)
9 September 2011 (United Kingdom)

It's been repeatedly said that ideally one could have a tailor-made screen adaptation of Jane Eyre by putting together bits and pieces of the many and widely varying adaptations of Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel. Far be it from us to list these memorable clips: they're among the most dividing things in Brontëland and what fully satisfies one will thoroughly disappoint another. And this, far from constituting a problem only goes to show the wealth and depth of a masterpiece like Jane Eyre, easily reaching readers who later on can't agree on the frame-by-frame depiction of what they have all read. In truth, there cannot be such a thing as the perfect Jane Eyre adaptation. Each version brings to the foreground different elements and approaches.

That's why approaching Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre from a film point of view should be easier than
examining it through the Brontëite's magnifying glass. Clearly, paper and screen are two wholly different formats using two radically different languages - trying to have the screen simply (or impossibly, depending on how you look at it) mirror what the text on paper says is, among many other possible adjectives, mostly pointless and so are comparisons of the sort 'in the novel she said...' or 'this didn't really happen like that in the novel'.

Were we to comment on such aspects we would, for instance, highlight the fact that here for possibly the first time, Jane's discourse on women feeling like men do is actually given voice and proper screen time. Jane also claims that she must respect herself and both speeches contribute to take the adaptation of the novel past the widely-expected love story and nothing else.

In a similar vein, we have noticed that Moira Buffini - the adapter - has apparently tried to leave speeches as untouched as possible, which will no doubt quickly endear many fans of the novel to this version. We wish we could have seen Jane's face all the time she's arguing with Rochester that just because she's plain, poor, obscure and little, etc. and not just Rochester's baffled face for a while but just listening to it was priceless (1).

Much has been commented on the chemistry or lack thereof between Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. From what we've read, we think that more critics found them suitable for each other than not. However, we are not so easily won over. We mostly agree with every good thing (and more) that has been said about Mia Wasikowska: her Jane is powerful, expressive and positively mesmerising, even if - and this might be just her following directing/script orders - a bit too tearful, which might be a concession to the 'new generations' and the need for feelings to be overly explicit and clear-cut. Jane is sad, thus Jane has to cry. The narrative first person voice of Jane is explicitly preserved in the film but not through an overimposed voice-over but with the help of the music of Dario Marianelli which creates a thoroughly impressive psychological comment through the violin soloist of Jack Liebeck  .

Michael Fassbender, though very good too and with an unforgettable, truth-finding stare, seems not to have fully left his role as an X-man behind him and looks a bit robotic at times, such as during the bed on fire scene.

And those are some of the reasons why we don't always agree with the total chemistry comment. While the repartee in front of the fire is wonderful (oh, those green men!) other scenes, such as when they meet for the first time in Hay Lane seem to us somewhat dull.

Does the flashback narrative really work? It does, at first. The beginning is fast-paced but easily understood with no need for a wonderful Mia Wasikowska to say one word but as the film advances and the flashbacks begin to grow longer and longer up until the final cut the resource doesn't seem to work all that well. However, Jane's childhood is fantastically if briefly told: those flashbacks showing just what and how an impressionable child might remember. Nevertheless, the structure becomes a bit flawed when the long Thornfield flashback begins. At this point, the writer and the director seem to think that the audience will be too confused if the double temporal line is maintained and opt for a more linear narrative.

A much weaker aspect of the story-telling is Bertha's tale. Many critics commented on the heightened gothic take and yet Bertha's story - the main gothic element of the novel - has been mostly diluted. Bertha's creepy laughter, her nightly 'walks' and her visit to Jane's bedroom and the whole Grace Poole character seem to have all been condensed in Adèle telling Jane about the legend which would have a vampire at Thornfield Hall. The upside of this is, of course, that the viewer is even more surprised to find Bertha there at all(2).

Bertha's gothic element seems to have been simplistically substituted by Jane's fixation with the naked painting, which she looks at time and time again and which we think could have been left out of the story.

Many things have been altered, of course, and as we said above, we don't mean to try and list all the differences between the novel and this adaptation but we think the fact that the whole John Eyre - failed wedding- St John Rivers finding Jane triangle has been suppressed is, not a mistake per se just that the alternative stories haven't been rightly re-developed as individual threads. Charlotte Brontë may have abused coincidences (3) but in trying to provide the story with a more realistic sequence of events much has been lost too.

On the positive side, this might be the film which has done a better job at conveying that other insurmountable obstacle of the story: Jane and Rochester's telepathy. Here it is exquisitely done and much, much more believable than in all previous adaptations.

The rest of the cast is also on the positive side of the film, of course, with Judi Dench's performance shining through. If this were Broadway, we would have definitely clapped our hands when she was shown for the first time. What a fantastic Mrs Fairfax she makes and how much better her final meeting with Jane works than the actual meeting between Jane and Rochester which, we are very sorry to say, was utterly disappointing and unexpected. Not only for how short the scene is, but also for the absence of all the humour which is a basic component of the Rochester-Jane relationship and which has been explored in the film successfully before.

And this is probably one of the biggest problems of this adaptation: the fact that it explores a lot of ways, but none of them fully. But a problem can be also a virtue and this way the film is also a brilliant exponent of how Jane Eyre is addressed in the 21st century. We are in the age in which we can approach practically everything from every point of view, but regrettably at the price that all of the approaches will be equally shallow.

The directorial work of Cary Fukunaga, with the exception of some problems with the rhythm of the last third of the film is excellent. In particular the first twenty minutes of the film are particularly brilliant. The use of extreme long shots where Jane Eyre is literally engulfed by the landscape give the film the epic soul which shines in the first half. In his previous (powerful opera prima) Sin Nombre, he also used some of these shots to integrate the protagonist, which like Jane was in a way searching for a family where she belonged, in a specific geography. The muted and subdued colours which Adriano Goldman provides the film with are combined with the extreme physicality of some of the scenes (the cold, the fog, the natural light and the wind are felt by the actors and by the audience) delivering a consistent and oppresive atmosphere. A special mention has to be made about the edition (by Melanie Oliver) of the whole first non-spoken twenty minutes where the rhythm is maintained almost entirely through the edition.

Cristina & M.

(1) And really - was it truly necessary for Rochester to add that 'Miss Ingram is the machine without feelings?'
(2) The deleted scenes include the veil episode and a really scary moment with Adèle and Jane hearing some strange noises on the third floor. As much as we can understand why the other scenes were deleted (the one where Rochester explains Adèle's origins to Jane is nice but the viewer can imagine that for himself), the lack of these elements cripples Bertha's backstory and leaves the Gothic approach without reaching its full potential.
(3) But finding Mrs Fairfax at the ruins of Thornfield Hall was not one of them. We suppose this to be a tribute to Jane Eyre 1944.  

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  1. Great review! "Bertha's gothic element seems to have been simplistically substituted by Jane's fixation with the naked painting, which she looks at time and time again and which we think could have been left out of the story." -- Totally agree! Overall, it's a good film, but it's lacking a certain ... something. Like you say, "it explores a lot of ways, but none of them fully".

  2. Honestly I think it would have been near-perfect (I agree the bed-fire scene could have been more exciting, but I do believe that other scenes contained sufficient electricity - including the scene where Rochester and Jane meet) if they had left in the two deleted scenes you mentioned. The veil-ripping scene was especially great. The deleted scene of Jane jumping out of the window and seeing Helen's ghost is spooky but probably wisely cut. Still, even with these gothic elements missing I think the director had a great grip on the novel and made the most satisfying Bronte adaptation to date.