Dialogue Review – Jane Eyre
Brandi Sperry: The scene: Brandi and Allen are about to watch Jane Eyre. Brandi’s quite excited, being a fan of the novel and having put the film on her most-anticipated list of 2011. Allen…doesn’t seem to know what Jane Eyre is, exactly.
Allen Almachar: That’s because Allen has admitted to not being a reader. But even though he hasn’t read the novel, that doesn’t mean he can’t appreciate a good movie. A “good movie” being the key term here.
Brandi: I’m just saying, we went into this with very different perspectives….and I think we have very different opinions, as well.
Director Cary Fukunaga, who previously made the excellent film Sin Nombre, serves the dark weirdness of Charlotte Brontë’s novel well in his adaptation. Mia Wasikowska absolutely nails the title role of the woman who survived the quintessential horrific childhood of a 19th century heroine (dead parents, cruel aunt, crueler boarding school, etc.) to somehow become a hard-working, level-headed young governess. She travels to the impressive and mysterious Thornfield Hall to teach the ward of the also impressive and mysterious Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender, swoon). Do not bother yourself with questions about why or how Rochester is so rich or how the hell he came into possession of this “ward,” a daft little French girl—none of that sort of thing really matters in this kind of story.
Allen: The film revolves around the on-again, off-again, on-again relationship that Jane has with Rochester while living in Thornfield Hall. While everything about this place and about Rochester seems to be oddly idyllic, there are darker and more mysterious secrets beneath its surface. When these secrets are revealed, they rock Jane’s world in a way that we won’t get too deep into here.
First, when going into this movie, I thought to myself that this kind of story really isn’t made for me. But thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that I actually liked a lot of British period stories, from Wuthering Heights with Laurence Olivier to David Lean’s adaptation of Great Expectations to Robert Altman’s Gosford Park. And there are lot of these Gothic stories that I dig, which helped a bit with my anxiousness when walking into Jane Eyre.
To start out, I will agree with you that the performances here are good all around. I think Mia Wasikowska does a good job playing a girl who has suffered her entire life and is hesitant to accept any kind of graciousness as a form of sincerity. As for Michael Fassbender, can someone tell me just where the heck this guy came from? It seems this dude shot straight out of the gate, I mean the second credit the man has on his resume is a large role in Band of Brothers! In everything I’ve seen him in (Band of Brothers, 300, Hunger, Inglourious Basterds, Fish Tank, and now this) he is becoming an actor of some serious talent. Mark it here: two years from now this guy is going to be a household name.
Brandi: I would guess he’ll be a household name even sooner than that, with his upcoming slate of films. Of course, he is much, much more handsome than Rochester is meant to be in the novel, but I couldn’t be less surprised about that and I also don’t much care, since he captures so well the part of Rochester that matters most: the off-kilter allure he holds for Jane. He may be rude and exasperatingly unpredictable, but he speaks to her as if he wishes to hear what she has to say, and that’s something Jane hasn’t experienced in a long time.
The attraction between Jane and Rochester builds so slowly that even she seems in denial of it half the time. Wasikowska perfectly captures the “no, I must be imagining it” way that one can feel when a simmering attraction that should be forbidden (Jane is far below Rochester’s social class) goes without being acted upon. This is something that is a major component of this story, and many such stories from that era: what you should do and what you are permitted to do versus what you want to do. These are actors that can express all of that using just their faces and their tone of voice, and it’s something to behold. They also have amazing chemistry, and their banter crackles. All of that makes the later pay-off moments, both happy and tragic, very satisfying.
Structurally, the film plays with the straight timeline presented in the novel, beginning near the end with Jane sobbing as she wanders the moors, and flashing backwards to piece together how she got there. It’s unexpected (if you know what to expect), but it works very well, adding to the sense of foreboding that permeates everything. The visuals help quite a bit with that, as well.
Allen: While I will agree with you that the performances all around were solid, I’m going to have to disagree with just about everything else you mentioned about the film. Visually, this film was drab, flat, and uninspired. The muted color palette removed any kind of spark or energy that it could have provided. Instead, we get a movie that looks cold, detached, and off-putting. Structurally, there was no reason for the film to start in the middle of the story and then flash back to find how it got there. I don’t really have a problem with this style—many of my favorite films are made this way—but the editing here was poorly handled, creating an opening act that was jarring and confusing. At first, we don’t know what’s happening during the present, or what’s a flashback, or what’s a flashback during a flashback…it was simply not put together well. The apparent “chemistry” that you saw was absent from my perspective. Wasikowska is in her early 20s, Fassbender is in his mid-30s, and you can clearly see the age difference when they interact together. Whatever chemistry they were supposed to have felt borderline inappropriate.
And these are just the minor issues I had with the movie, the biggest problem I had was with the story itself.
Brandi: Are you sure you like Gothic stories, Allen? The greatest thing about them is combining that cold, off-putting atmosphere you describe with intense human emotion and dramatic plotlines. A different color palette would have seriously clashed with the vibe coming from the characters.I also think beginning at the end was savvy, though I guess I can see where it would be confusing. (I think the jarring aspect you describe is intentional, but if it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you.) The film focuses on the love story, and making Jane’s childhood into a set of flashbacks makes sense. In the novel, we don’t even meet Rochester until we’re pretty far into the action. I liked that this way his influence was felt before he even arrived.