Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Semi-Objective Film Review of Jane Eyre (2011)

Directed by Cary Fukunaga, Jane Eyre (2011) tells the story of a young governess who overcomes her circumstances and falls in love with her mysterious employer. Along with Fukunaga’s direction, the gloomy cinematography conveys the Gothic element of this classic tale particularly in the opening sequence when Jane wanders around the vast landscape leaving us wondering where she is. One minor exception to the Gothic element is the red room which Jane is supposed to believe that her dead Uncle Reed haunts. The red room looks like a tacky sitting room with the sun shining too brightly for a room that is supposed to be a place of punishment.

In my previous post, I note the specific issues that I had with the screenplay. However, I do appreciate the clever use of the flashback structure to compress the novel’s first act (Jane’s childhood) and the third act (Jane’s first few months with the Rivers family). The second act (Jane’s time at Thornfield) remains mostly uninterrupted focusing on the romance between Jane and Mr. Rochester. However, the ending is simply too abrupt to satisfy even those who are not familiar with the novel and simply watching a period romance.

With the version that they are given, Mia Wasikowska does an excellent job in portraying Jane’s strength of conviction and intelligence as well as her shyness and awkwardness. Michael Fassbender does not portray the enigmatic teasing aspect of Rochester’s character especially in the first intellectual discussion scene and in the scene after Bertha attacks her brother. He telegraphs Rochester’s interest in Jane too much in those scenes. However, in the aftermath of the fire, a scene where Rochester should show an attraction for Jane, Fassbender provides the right amount of seduction.

Also, Jamie Bell gives me a new appreciation of the character of St. John Rivers, a character that I do not normally care for in the book and generally despise when watching Jane Eyre. Bell does not play the character as condescending as other actors have done but still maintains the character’s self-righteousness.

If I am in the mood for a highlight reel of Jane Eyre, I will watch this version. But if I want to indulge my novel purist side, I will watch the 1983 BBC miniseries version instead.

Jane Eyre film links:

Official Website

The Enthusiast’s Guide to Jane Eyre Adaptations

Up in the Eyre: Why are there so many movie adaptations of Jane Eyre, and which one is the best?

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Novel Purist Review of Jane Eyre (2011)

I tried. Honest. I told myself that the film is two hours long and that some scenes and lines will be cut and I should accept it as a highlight reel of Jane Eyre. But I couldn’t stop myself from mentally complaining about the omitted lines and scenes. I was extremely critical during my favorite chapters:

Chapter 14 – Jane and Mr. Rochester’s first intellectual discussion

The dialogue began well with Rochester (Michael Fassbender) being intimidating and enigmatic at the part when he asks Jane (Mia Wasikowska) if she finds him handsome and she sharply replies “No sir.” Although they kept the discussion of Rochester’s claim to superiority based on Jane being his paid subordinate, the discussion on how Rochester made use of his time and experience was dwindled down to a few lines thus cutting out intellectual bond that Rochester and Jane form during this conversation. Instead, Fassbender decides that Rochester wants Jane to know that he is interested in her by saying “Possibly: yet why should I, if I can get sweet, fresh pleasure? And I may get it as sweet and fresh as the wild honey the bee gathers on the moor” and “I see at intervals the glance of a curious sort of bird through the close-set bars of a cage: a vivid, restless, resolute captive is there; were it but free, it would soar cloud-high.” in a overtly seductive manner instead of in a enigmatically teasing manner. Rochester does not show Jane that he likes her just as a person at this point.

Chapter 23 – the proposal scene

My first thought when I saw that this scene was coming: ”Why is it daytime?! Am I not remembering this correctly because I could’ve sworn this scene happens at night?” So, when I reread the chapter, I did remember that the scene correctly. Why can’t this scene ever be done right? I feel that this scene takes place at night because there’s an underlying darkness to the proposal: Rochester is already married in the eyes of the law. Perhaps the filmmakers felt that shooting the scene in the day will lend a sense of irony. Then there’s the omission of Rochester finding her a situation in Ireland. That piece of information is the key to Jane’s emotional breakdown because the possibility of her leaving Rochester became real. Without it, the scene lacked the emotional highs and lows that it should have.

Chapter 27 – after the reveal of Rochester’s wife

Wasikowska and Fassbender did a good job at portraying Jane’s sense of pity along with her strength of conviction to leave Rochester and Rochester’s desperation to make Jane stay with him especially when he said, “A mere reed she feels in my hand! I could bend her with my finger and thumb. Whatever I do with its cage, I cannot get at it--the savage, beautiful creature! And it is you, spirit--with will and energy, and virtue and purity--that I want: not alone your brittle frame.” However, the scene would have more passion if the screenwriter had included these lines:

"Jane, you understand what I want of you? Just this promise--'I will be yours, Mr. Rochester.'"
"Mr. Rochester, I will NOT be yours."
Another long silence.
"Jane!" recommenced he, with a gentleness that broke me down with grief, and turned me stone-cold with ominous terror--for this still voice was the pant of a lion rising--"Jane, do you mean to go one way in the world, and to let me go another?"
"I do."
"Jane" (bending towards and embracing me), "do you mean it now?"
"I do."
"And now?" softly kissing my forehead and cheek.
"I do," extricating myself from restraint rapidly and completely.
"Oh, Jane, this is bitter! This--this is wicked. It would not be wicked to love me."
"It would to obey you."

While I had a laser-like focus on my favorite chapters, there were other lines that I wished the film had included:

When Jane leaves the party after Rochester asks her if she’s depressed and she denies it. Rochester says:

“But I affirm that you are: so much depressed that a few more words would bring tears to your eyes--indeed, they are there now, shining and swimming; and a bead has slipped from the lash and fallen on to the flag. If I had time, and was not in mortal dread of some prating prig of a servant passing, I would know what all this means. Well, to-night I excuse you; but understand that so long as my visitors stay, I expect you to appear in the drawing-room every evening; it is my wish; don't neglect it. Now go, and send Sophie for Adele. Good-night, my--" He stopped, bit his lip, and abruptly left me.

In the film, a servant announces Richard Mason’s arrival. In the book, Mason arrives a few days after this scene.

When Jane leaves for Gateshead:

“Then you and I must bid good-bye for a little while?" [Rochester says.]
"I suppose so, sir."
"And how do people perform that ceremony of parting, Jane? Teach me; I'm not quite up to it."
"They say, Farewell, or any other form they prefer."
"Then say it."
"Farewell, Mr. Rochester, for the present."
"What must I say?"
"The same, if you like, sir."
"Farewell, Miss Eyre, for the present; is that all?"
"It seems stingy, to my notions, and dry, and unfriendly. I should like something else: a little addition to the rite. If one shook hands, for instance; but no--that would not content me either. So you'll do no more than say Farewell, Jane?"
"It is enough, sir: as much good-will may be conveyed in one hearty word as in many."
"Very likely; but it is blank and cool--'Farewell.'"

This is one of their major bonding moments and it should have not been left out.

The plot point that I cannot believe that they changed was the fact that Jane discovers that the Rivers are her blood relatives thus giving Jane the family she always wanted. In the film, Jane suggests to St. John that he treats her like a sister. While I can guess that the filmmakers decided on this change to make the St. John’s proposal more acceptable to a modern audience, I find it insulting to the audience. Most viewers try to understand that different time periods had different standards for who people can marry. I think that they could have understood that cousins married each other during that time.

My next post will be a more objective film review of Jane Eyre (2011). But I felt it was my duty as a Jane Eyre fan to warn other Jane Eyre fans about the missing lines and scenes. And to say to any aspiring screenwriter/director/producer: STOP MAKING JANE EYRE FEATURE FILM ADAPTATIONS! THE NOVEL ONLY WORKS AS A MINISERIES!