A Gothic romance with souls, not strings, attached
Shakespeare, Austen and Bronte are part of an unwritten rule in Hollywood. Each author must have his or her works adapted every few years or bare eternal witness of having them wither away and be replaced by those penned by Stephenie Meyer. That would explain why Romeo & Juliet has been done more than two dozen times, including one this year with garden gnomes.
Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre has been interpreted close to eighteen different times, both as silent and sound features, in English, Spanish, and Indian, and featuring such luminaries as Orson Welles, Elizabeth Taylor, George C. Scott, Susannah York, William Hurt, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Anna Paquin.
The 2011 release by Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) continues the tradition of keeping Bronte’s novel alive in movie houses. While it may rehash a storied romance, it does so with great acting and atmosphere. If there’s anything to take away from this latest cinematic adaptation it’s that Mia Wasikowska is a star in waiting. Last year may have been the Aussie’s breakout year with both Alice in Wonderland and The Kids Are All Right, but it is her turn as the titular heroine in Bronte’s tale that is most impressive. The key evidence is the scene where she and her employer, Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender), sit down and have a conversation. The art of talking may be lost on the youth and the age of texting, but there’s something majestic just seeing two people getting to know each other in a closed setting without distractions. It’s like watching a tennis match and each response lobbed in the air holds still for a second before it is returned. Wasikowska shows so much in this one scene, able to mix it up with her employer by being both truthful and showing restraint.
As is the case with literary adaptations of weighty novels, subplots have to be condensed or cut so that the movie can be a more manageable length. This Jane Eyre is no exception. Fukunaga places emphasis on Eyre’s service as the new governess of Thornfield Hall, caring for a young French girl named Adele, and she forms a fast friendship with Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench), Rochester’s housekeeper. But it is the gloomy romance that develops between Jane and Mr. Rochester that is most tantalizing. Rochester is the bad boy prince and she is far from a princess. While they may not come from feuding families there’s no mistake when these two love stars cross.
However, their romance isn’t all sparks. Actually, the tension they have in each other’s presence is pretty loose and lacking of heat. So for those wanting sexy encounters as found in cheap paperback romances – you know, the ones with a lot of thrusting and weird sexual positions like “The Trojan Horse” – you might come away disappointed. The love they share may be distant and emotionless, making them look more like strangers occupying space under the same roof, but it allows Fukunaga to play up the gothic atmosphere. Forget long, drawn out soliloquies or happy, uplifting musical moments, if you want to know how Jane Eyre feels just look at how she is framed in several sequences. Fukunaga shoots her from behind allowing plenty of leading room giving Jane the space she needs to pace and air out her thoughts, silently to herself.
The decision to have Bronte’s story restructured and incorporate flashbacks is a novel approach and well done in its execution. The flashbacks give us a glimpse into Jane’s life so we get a generalized account of how she became well mannered and self-aware in spite of being vilified and bullied in her youth. A young Jane Eyre must contend with a cruel aunt (Sally Hawkins) before being shipped off to the Lowood Charity School where, if you fall out of line, are subjected to whippings and other forms of punishment. The flashbacks are shown in accordance to Eyre leaving Thornfield Hall in a tizzy, after hearing some troubling news.
What people should take away from this umpteenth adaptation of Jane Eyre is that it is possible to cut the fat of a classic novel and have it retain its heart and soul. Also, it helps when you have two comparable leads, as is the case with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. Wasikowska is so good at expressing much when expressing very little. The moments where hand-held cameras are walking with her are visual proof. Jane Eyre, while not a complete cure all for box office malaise at the moment, is still worth your time and should appease those who at the very least enjoyed Joe Wright’s stellar interpretation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga Notable Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench, Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots, Amelia Clarkson, Sally Hawkins Writer(s): Moira Buffini, based on the novel by Charlotte Bronte
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!