25 September 2013

Filmbook: "Jane Eyre" (2011)

Far from the first adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's high-school-required-reading classic, but one that sticks in the mind because of its unique off-the-page approach and great performances.

2011's "Jane Eyre," from American director Cary Fukunaga (and only his second feature), is lit and soundtracked like a ghost story. Starting in medias res when Jane Eyre turns up to the Rivers household, the film flashes back, first to Jane's most immediate past and then to her childhood as an unwanted orphan in the Reid household, an orphan and a governess. As Jane's cohorts at Lowood are encouraged to treat her like a ghost, she becomes a mere shade in her own life, hoping just to flit through and not make too deeply of an impression. Of course, this is impossible.

I was impressed by the performance of Mia Wasikowska ("The Kids Are All Right," Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland") as Jane. She looks like a Vermeer with a wrinkle in it; I found her performance satisfyingly multidimensional, to the point that I was constantly watching her when other things were going on in the frame. And though underused, Dame Judi Dench is excellent as always as Mr. Rochester's longtime housekeeper and Jane's confidante. Let's be honest, though: I primarily watched this movie to see Michael Fassbender as Rochester, and he did not disappoint either. My inborn dislike of Rochester, the character, was baked into Fassbender's specialty for acting as a man with a terrible secret (see: "Shame," "X-Men: First Class," "Prometheus" to some extent). Yet at the same time his Rochester sometimes appears to have no more control over his surroundings than she does. Jane is a ghost, and he is an amateur ghost hunter looking for evidence of her.

The only thing that stopped me from signing on fully was the handling of Jane and Rochester's brief interlude of happiness before she goes to the Rivers' household; it felt abrupt (even more so in the original text) and the shift in tone was not handled well.

The verdict: I think you need to have read the book to appreciate the nuances of this adaptation, actually. So I'll go with: Read the book, then watch the movie. Did you know Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are making a big-screen "Macbeth"? I can hardly wait.

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