Monday, March 21, 2011

Jane Eyre: Men Aren't The Only Thing Out to Get This Poor Girl

Jane Eyre
Directed By: Cary Fukunaga
Written By: Moira Buffini (Based on the novel by Charlotte Bronte)
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judi Dench, and Sally Hawkins
Director of Photography: Adriano Goldman, Editor: Melanie Oliver, Production Designer: Will Hughes-Jones, Original Music: Dario Marionelli
Rated: PG-13, for brief violence, and some other strange happenings

            Recollections of the name Jane Eyre may conjur many things for different people. Perhaps some will think about their college or perhaps high school years reading the novel, with its quick wit and gorgeous prose by Charlotte Bronte. Others may picture the numerous film adaptations—either William Hurt as Mr. Rochester or perhaps Orson Welles, and actresses like Charlotte Gainsbourg or Joan Fontaine in the role of the titular character. Call it my naïveté or simply lack of serious intellectual pursuits, but I have never seen anything related to Ms. Bronte’s now famous novel. Jane Eyre has been a missing link on my education (oh what do they teach these days!), and thus I went into this latest version as an “Eyre-gin,” so to say.

            So colored me surprised to not find another girl caught up in marriage pursuits, as is a favorite story of Ms. Bronte’s 19th century counterpart Jane Austin. Of course, that is the endgame in Jane Eyre, but through the eyes of Cary Fukunaga, Jane Eyre is darker than witty, more gruesome and haunting than charming and delightful. Sure it has its gorgeous moments, but its also creepy and effecting in its drab presentation and almost lifeless landscapes.

            This is not unfamiliar territory for Mr. Fukunaga, whose last film was the realistic but audience pleaser Sin Nombre, which took place mostly atop trains heading from Latin America to the Texan border. Mr. Fukunaga, working with director of photographer Adriano Goldman, strips Jane Eyre of its life in hope of creating a more ordinary world, one stoked not in fancy parties, but in societal minutia.

For those who don’t know the story, the film begins with Jane as a young girl, orphaned by her parents and cast off by an unforgiving aunt. After a stay in a boarding school (much longer in the novel, I’m told), Jane (now played by Mia Wasikowska) works as a governess at a small estate in the middle of nowhere. She’s looked after by the estate’s servant head (Judi Dench), as well as the estate’s owner, Mr. Rochester, played by Michael Fassbender. Mr. Fassbender, best known for his role as a film critic turned spy in Inglorious Basterds, though perhaps more fascinating in the UK drama Fish Tank, plays Mr. Rocahester with a cunning wit, rarely seen in these type of period dramas. He sways between a more casual fascination with Jane to an almost obsessive fierceness, blurring the line between bad boy with a heart of gold and your run-of-a-mill pedophile.

Of course, Ms. Wasikowska holds her own to Mr. Fassbender’s cunning, and while the film is dark (literally too—many scenes gorgeously lit by only candles), Jane’s quick remarks toward Mr. Rochester prove to create some amazing chemistry for the two. The film zooms sideways like the novel toward some curious melodrama by the end, and the film’s ending seems rushed to fill the major plot points, but Mr. Fukunaga has blown fresh air into the British period piece, a sensibility more often seen in Japanese horror perhaps. With his gothic palette, Mr. Fukunaga is not afraid to let us see that Jane Eyre is darker than our childhood has imagined. In an early moment, Jane stares out not as a sunset, but as a lightning storm, gathering just ahead. Who knew that the magic of falling in love could capture both such magic and such fury?

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