Dialogue Review – Jane Eyre
Allen: I have no issue with films that are Gothic, Brandi. I enjoy stories that take a darker turn and explore the more twisted elements of human nature. I’m fine with that. There are plenty of films out there that tackle this while at the same time being visually interesting and stimulating, which this film was not.
You say that in the book, we don’t meet Rochester until well into the story’s plot. What’s so wrong with having that transcribed in the film? Why does this have to be structured the way that it is? You call it savvy, I call it unoriginal. Again, I’m not saying that I’m against the way the film is put together, I’m just saying that it’s not put together very well. You say you like the fact that Rochester’s influence is felt even before he arrives, but to me that says that this is a film that’s only intended for people who read the book. What about the people who haven’t read it? Are they supposed to know that Rochester’s influence is apparently felt without him being introduced in to the story? If we’re already supposed to know that based on the book instead of the film telling us, then that’s a failure on the film’s behalf.
Perhaps this story just isn’t for me, and the more I think about it, the less I care for it. My biggest complaint about it is how just about every character Jane interacts with is depicted. I’m going to tread cautiously here and say:
How exactly is it that every character that Jane meets—in particular the men—are cruel, controlling, and dishonest? Throughout her entire life, she didn’t meet ONE person that treated her with sincerity? It seems every person she encountered had a secret or some kind of surprise agenda that stood in contrast with how they first appeared. There was a moment near the end when a character showed his true colors to Jane that had me shaking my head with how far out of left field it came from.
And in regard to this supposed “romance” between Jane and Rochester: I want to be able to fully describe how their story turns out, because how it resolves is really my biggest issue. I guess what I can say is that this was a relationship that Jane was wary of from the very beginning, and there is a reveal that threatens to destroy their bond forever. However, an event that is detailed (not even shown, but described after the fact), changes everything that Jane thought about Rochester and the world that he offered to her. To me, this resolution is both unsatisfying and unbelievable. Does Jane not realize that this is the same man who still kept this same secret from her while she was living there? What was different between then and now? The film is basically telling us that, regardless of whatever dishonesty one has, all they need to do to attain the love of their life is to go through an unthinkable, traumatic experience so that they’ll fall in love with them out of sheer pity.
Brandi: It’s a fair enough point that some of the things I liked about the adaptation would be undetectable to those who are unfamiliar with the story. I can’t retroactively see the film without having read the novel; I’m only describing how I personally felt while watching it. Perhaps what I should have said is that I like that the viewer can feel the influence of something very bad happening to her, before it actually does. You don’t need to know that it is, specifically, the sudden, ugly, crushing collapse of her relationship with Rochester for the mood to work. And I maintain that while you might like dark stories, it sounds like you don’t like the specific conventions of 19th century Gothic literature (which is fine!). Yes, Jane as a character has seen an almost absurd amount of cruelty in her life, but she’s had equal opportunity cruelty—it all starts with being cast out by her aunt, not with a man. (And there definitely are characters who treat her with sincerity—her childhood best friend and St. John’s sisters, in particular.) In fact, it’s a man’s action (talking about her uncle, not St. John) that gives her the sense of freedom to reconsider the choice she made of leaving Rochester.
I actually don’t blame you for not having much sympathy for Rochester in the end, because my one real complaint about the film was that I felt the reveal of his secret didn’t have the force it needed in order to convey how tortured he’d been by it, and what an insane situation it was. However, it’s not the next event, which you mention happens off screen, that causes Jane to return to him—she was already doing that before she knew what had happened. She chooses him, knowing what he kept from her, before she knows about his traumatic experience. Still, I know how you feel about anything that even hints at a deus ex machina, and in a way we get a one-two punch of that at the end of this story. Again, that’s not uncommon in this kind of literature, and if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. That’s understandable. But it works for me.
Allen: Ok, I’ll give it to you that she has had a fair share of equal opportunity cruelty (that’s kind of a weird combination of words!) in her life, and you do make a lot of good points that I didn’t even recall. I think the reason I felt the way I did was because the acts of cruelty and deception that stuck the most in mind (the young boy that tried to steal her book, the priest urging on the sister to physically punish the young girls, Rochester and St. John) all came from males. Even her aunt treated her badly and punished her because of something that was first initiated by the young boy! I just wish there was more balance between the evil we see in her world and the good.
I think it’s kind of obvious that you liked the film and I didn’t; I guess we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I think this is biggest difference of opinion we’ve had so far with our dialogue reviews! High five!
Oh, and I’m going to stand fast with the fact that I can like a Gothic story set in the 19th century, just not this Gothic story set in the 19th century!
Brandi: Well, it’s been fun disagreeing with you. Maybe we can at least agree that Judi Dench is an upstanding lady?
Allen: The real question is: when is she NOT an upstanding lady?