As many long-suffering high schoolers did, I read Jane Eyre in 9th grade and hated it. Later, of course, I reread it and loved it! Even as I warmed to Charlotte Bronte’s surprisingly astute judge of the psychological damage inflicted by the callous societal attitudes of the day, I never really got why Jane went for Mr. Rochester. Simple as that. In a culture of withholding and cruelty, his “charms” could best be described as “as expected” rather than alluring on any level.
In this adaptation, screenwriter Moira Buffini and director Cary Fukunaga finally helped me get it. From Rochester’s hysterical secret to Jane’s default setting of undeservingness, Buffini takes them both to a place of mutual respect and understanding. It may not necessarily be true to the text as such (it has been quite a while) but it’s true to the spirit of Jane.
Casting Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) as the glowering antihero was equally as inspired a choice as using Colin Firth in 1995’s Pride and Prejudice: both of them are unconventionally handsome and gentle actors thrust into roles that radiate unpleasantness and are difficult to warm to. Rochester’s irrational grumps and rages feel more human coming out of Fassbender, not unlike Firth’s cold and cutting remarks. It’s the only way to insert humanity into them onscreen in the truncated time span of a film.
Mia Wasikowska’s Jane is stoic and unselfconsciously beautiful, frail-looking but strong as bamboo when tried. We can see all her internal scars, feel the effects of her abusive upbringing, even as the movie is forced to rush through the extent of it. From such a barren life grows a fierce weed, almost mannish her lack of guile or vanity — and from thence her appeal. It’s funny how literary and contemporary men always decry women for leaving their feminine place, but are yet always drawn to the outspoken, independent, fearless women they decry.
This version of Jane Eyre is light on Rochester being cruel to her himself, and in that fails the story just a little — but I confess I enjoyed it more for that. I also liked the sense of Rochester being in the world when Jane has not been. Not only in terms of his bastard ward, but just his whole clearly grown-up-ness and jaded weariness — yet still he is weaker than this beaten down servant girl.
My one quibble is a sort of narrative device that confused me — and likely might have done for anyone who hadn’t read the book at all. The whole episode with St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters, I had forgotten happened at all. So when we’re shown the flight across the — moors? heath? — by Jane, twice, it’s not immediately evident where it falls in the timeline, both times. It can be worked out and it’s not vital, but it rendered a scene a little contextually confusing, implying through editing that Rivers helped her find her job at Thornfield, the Rochester house. It’s only a quibble. I enjoyed this film very much. I hope you will too.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 3/11/11
Time in minutes 120
Director Cary Fukunaga
Studio Focus Features