REVIEW: Jane Eyre [2011]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 120 minutes | Release Date: March 11th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Focus Features
Director(s): Cary Fukunaga
Writer(s): Moira Buffini / Charlotte Brontë (novel)

“We shall root out the wickedness from this small, ungrateful plant”

No, the words from friends and family about the dry, dull, laborious task it is to read the Brontë sisters didn’t sway my desire to see Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. Between my adoration of the director’s previous effort, Sin Nombre; the uneasy, ethereal quality of tone and aesthetic of the trailer; and the drop-dead gorgeous poster, (yes, I do judge books by their covers), my ticket was punched long before acclaim showered down. Considering its publishing date was 1847, you may assume the period drama will be all romance, swooning, and flirtatious potential leading to forgone happily-ever-after—you’d be wrong. Laugh at the allusions to vampires and monsters on the road at night, but the nagging possibility some supernatural element risks entering the fray lingers as tension mounts concerning the revelation of Mr. Rochester’s dark secret. A tale of forbidden love, instead of a class chasm or jealous rivalry to overcome, Jane Eyre’s twists and turns are crafted to hide a truth that makes its central love unlawful, unfathomable by his idea of humanity’s shallow nature, and unwelcome to the strength and self-worth she has created through years of torment and emotional suffering.

Our first look upon the pretty girl in plain wear sees Jane (Mia Wasikowska) running as though for her life. Through empty fields, pouring rain, and abandoned landscapes she runs from something unseen, fear and torture at her soul, falling and writhing on the ground with tear-streaked cheeks and the powerful shudder of her heart-broken chest. It is by sheer luck she come across a house at the last possible moment before collapse, the master of the home, St. John Rivers (pronounced as Sinjin and played by Jamie Bell), carrying her in as his sisters nurse her to health. But even when conscious and willing to move towards the future, the prospect for work her only goal, the past never stays far behind. The film soon flickers back to her childhood and the malice with which she was treated, an orphan left to her aunt (Sally Hawkins’s Mrs. Reed) soon sent to a boarding school where ridicule and abuse were means of education. Glimpses of love never staying long enough to grasp are washed away as Jane tries to repress it all. And when Sinjin finds her work as a schoolteacher, the prospect of an autonomous existence only makes the cause for her escape flood back.

Shot by cinematographer Adriano Goldman, the angled frames create gorgeous compositions populated by period garb and beautifully gnarled landscapes of stone and barren trees. Utilizing the scene’s natural light, the reflected flicker of candles and fireplaces are constant reminders of a time without artificial lamps, the darkness of a room removed of its flaming bonfire a vacuum made visible by the rising sun’s soft light through the windows. Close-ups portray a chiaroscuro of light and dark—never a brightly lit subject—but piece parts held in focus while others near and far blur away. One particular frame remains in my memory, Wasikowska leaning into a wall to hear sounds she knows were not imagined behind it, the liquid glare of the top crescents of her eyes drawing you in as darkness shrouds her in shadow. As a result, any cinephile dismissing Jane Eyre as a romance unworthy of their time would be doing a disservice. Between Goldman’s eye, Fukunaga’s aesthetic, the actors’ emotive performances, and Dario Marianelli’s, (a favorite of mine in his collaborations with Joe Wright), haunting score, this film will be close to if not the most beautiful work seen all year.

And the story itself is intriguingly captivating as it goes unexpected places. If there is one negative here it is that the love story is rushed—yes, a two-hour film that feels rushed. The love created between Jane and Rochester (Michael Fassbender) is pure, a kinship of soul and spirit, but it feels as though the path towards it arrives without warning, just as rumors of his marriage to aristocrat Blanche Ingram (Imogen Poots) gain traction. But rather than the tale end as their courtship crescendos to the first smile we’ve yet seen from Eyre, their love only opens doors wide open to the secret hidden from even the estate’s housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench). Whereas most examples of romantic drama would delve into the struggle of a wealthy man falling for his ward’s governess—Eyre isn’t so far down the food chain as a servant, but still an employee nonetheless—Brontë’s tale of woe and deceit goes much deeper. Here it is the man of means who risks losing everything and the poor girl uninterested in status and money willing to give up her one chance at happiness to keep true to herself.

It is Jane’s capacity to love that makes her isolated, her refusal to waste it making her longing stronger. Her character’s admittance that outward beauty means little is not merely a line—it is a way of life. Her friendship is all-inclusive if you show her you’re worthy. Devoid of love at her childhood home, it was a little girl who went against their headmaster’s instructions who showed her the bond of friendship, but even that was dealt a fatal blow in the blink of an eye. Wasikowska is brilliant at portraying this girl so tied in knots but aware of her roots and the work she’s done to get where she is. Her tale of woe not an excuse, but instead what shaped the woman she’d become, the kind care of Romy Settbon Moore’s young, French Adele unmistakably a comment on what she longed for growing up. It’s this unorthodox and fearless nature that enraptures Rochester, Fassbender giving him equal amounts of pompous stature and complicated soul. The only truth that exists is their love for each other, above appearance, senses, right, and wrong. Sometimes that love exists in a dark world—its survival that much more rare; it’s success that much sweeter.

[1] Mia Wasikowska stars as the title character of the romantic drama JANE EYRE, a Focus Features release directed by Cary Fukunaga. Photo Credit: Laurie Sparham
[2] Mia Wasikowska (left) as Jane Eyre and Michael Fassbender (right) as Mr. Rochester in the romantic drama JANE EYRE, a Focus Features release directed by Cary Fukunaga. Photo Credit: Laurie Sparham
[3] Mia Wasikowska (left) and Jamie Bell (right) star in Jane Eyre, a Focus Features release directed by Cary Fukunaga. PHOTO CREDIT: Laurie Sparham

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