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JANE EYRE, 2011
After a bleak childhood, Jane Eyre goes out into the world to become a governess. As she lives happily in her new position at Thornfield Hall, she meet the dark, cold, and abrupt master of the house, Mr. Rochester. Jane and her employer grow close in friendship and she soon finds herself falling in love with him. Happiness seems to have found Jane at last, but could Mr. Rochester's terrible secret be about to destroy it forever?
Release Date: 11 March 2011
A lot women oriented literature (and the films that come from them) is really tiresome, just like a lot of male oriented literature is and for similar if slightly different reasons. Partly it's because in order to appeal to its target audience there is a lot of focusing on the whims and fantasies of the group, which isolates anyone who doesn't share those fantasies. But the main reason is because in the process it can cover up the really good women oriented literature that's trying to say something about its target audience while saying something to them. Stuff like "Jane Eyre."
Though its stood the test of time, to the eternal terror of high school students everywhere, "Jane Eyre" has never been given the affection of other similar novels which is unfortunate as Charlotte Bronte's most famous work is one of the finest proto-feminist examples of its time, hidden not in a shell of light romance but something closer to gothic horror.
It's a mixture director Cary Fukunaga ("Sin Nombre") has managed to grab hold of perfectly in his adaptation of "Jane Eyre." Though clearly focused on style and mood, with its dark environments and whispered noises, Fukunaga's vivid portrayal works first and foremost because of his unerring focus on his lead.
Jane (Mia Wasikowska) is a woman who first and foremost regards herself as a complete person, regardless of the 'tale of woe' surrounding her early life, as employer Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) puts it. She wants love and stability as much as the next person but it's not the focus of her life. She is more interested in enforcing on the world around her the recognition that she is a person and as such is deserving of natural respect. That's a particularly difficult proposition in an age where women seldom worked or owned property and had little say in their own lives.
Against that backdrop Wasikowska is a confounding wall, unbending in the face of the various men in her life – Fassbender, Jamie Bell's St. John – who simply expect her to do what they tell her. It's a low key but spot on performance which perfectly captures the heart of Jane herself without over doing it. It's not flashy; it's just about the opposite of flashy which is one of the reasons as a heroine she has gone so often overlooked. Jane isn't witty or particularly pretty or any of the other things that follow these types of stories in more traditionally told variations. What she is is stubborn, unwilling to given an inch in her belief of herself.
Fukunaga has chosen to balance this against a visual representation of the books more transcendentalist leanings, particularly in the first half where he takes full advantage of the stories darker tones. From Jane's first appearance wandering through a dark moor to the terror of her upbringing at a girl's home and onto the strange noises that fill Rochester's home, he plays the film more like suspense thriller. People come silently out of the fog of a sudden; rooms are discovered to be blazing on fire at night. The world is a dangerous place.
But it's a beautiful place for all of that. Cinematographer Adriano Goldman ("Conviction") has delivered a sharply observed film, filled with light and shadow and near fantasy level backdrops.
The rest of the cast is almost as good though Fukunaga wisely keeps the focus on Jane and not necessarily on her relationships. Fassbender is alternately enthralling and irritating without ever entirely losing his charm or making it impossible to understand what Jane sees in his Rochester. Everyone else comes across as more of a sketch of a character, and sketches that became well known through the likes of Dickens and other later writers, but they still fit. It's not cliché, it's first; it's not light entertainment but it's true.
When it comes to translating a book to film there may not be any way to create an actual definitive version, but Fukunaga's "Jane Eyre" captures the essence of the book and the character without losing his film inside its subject. It's gripping, enthralling and will take you less time than reading the book for that report due Tuesday for you high school slackers. Check it out.