Mark Reviews Movies

JANE EYRE (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Cary Fukunaga

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench, Jamie Bell, Romy Settbon Moore, Sally Hawkins, Amelia Clarkson, Holliday Grainger, Tamzin Merchant, Imogen Poots

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements including a nude image and brief violent content)

Running Time: 1:55

Release Date: 3/11/11 (limited); 3/18/11 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 17, 2011

Oh, good, sweet-natured Jane Eyre. She captures your heart every time, just from the essence of her being. She is a contradiction—a passive agent in her own life's story that is still somehow a strong presence in it. The reasons to love her and Charlotte Brontë's same-titled novel are more numerous than the countless adaptations of the story, going as far back as 1910 on film.

This version, adapted by Moira Buffini and directed by Cary Fukunaga, is, above all, a handsome production. It plays the novel's beats with a special kind of dexterity, shifting from the Gothic horror of those sounds and murmurs and laughs in the dark night of Thornfield Hall to the evolving relationship between the heroine and her employer, and if the condensing of the source material to incorporate as much as possible within it means a certain lack of overarching focus, it is not for a lack of understanding or atmospheric interpretation. This Jane Eyre knows its characters and how the bumps in the night become very real bumps in Jane's road to happiness.

Jane is played by Mia Wasikowska, unadorned with the trappings to highlight or create physical beauty and with eyes that reveal something always working behind them. Buffini's screenplay moves back and forth between her life as a young child (Amelia Clarkson) under the rough conditions of her aunt by marriage Mrs. Reed (Sally Hawkins), who is not blood and makes that point clear every day of young Jane's life, and her arrival at Moor House where St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters (Holliday Grainger and Tamzin Merchant) help nurse her back to life after a long, arduous trek across the countryside.

Her life unfolds. An orphan without any known blood relative left in the world, Jane is shipped off to a school where corporal punishment is a pillar of their educational philosophy, though she's used to it, given the abusive nature of her former home. By the time she leaves to work as a governess for a ward (Romy Settbon Moore) at Thornfield Hall, all of her younger classmates look up to her, and even the teachers cannot say the same sort of slander they did when she was younger—demonic liar.

Jane's life is overwhelmed by loss and hardship, though she would never admit to such a lot in life. When the head of Thornfield Hall Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) asks what sad story she, like all governesses he's ever known, has, Jane insists she has none, and when she has finished her account, Rochester can only be dumbfounded, as we are, at how sincere, despite her circumstances, her assertion is.

Their conversations—those great bits of dialogue from Brontë—are like verbal fencing matches, as Rochester attempts to hold dominion over the discussion and is forced to accept that his partner is more than capable of keeping up and, at times, conquer him. If Wasikowska and Fassbender come across as a bit stilted during them, it is only a fact of character.

This is especially true as their bond grows into mutual affection; they are both hindered by their background. On the surface, he fears the reaction of breaking mores and loving below his social class, and beneath, he holds the secret to those cries and whispers that all in Thornfield Hall hear in the night, emanating from behind a curtain where a seemingly impossible breeze originates through a wall. They are not only the noises of a phantasm but also a very real threat, setting fire to Rochester's bed and viciously attacking an unexpected visitor who knows as much as Rochester but is equally silent.

Jane, of course, knows very little of any form of love (We only see her as friends with one girl in school, and even that poor soul succumbs to disease) and perhaps nothing of the romantic sort. To comprehend the potential ardor of a man as mercurial as Rochester, who maintains a flirtatious relationship with Blanche Ingram (Imogen Poots), a young woman of his own social status, while hinting at feelings for Jane, is a feat for even the most worldly of women. She aspires to become such a woman, staring out the upper-level windows toward the horizon, dreaming of what lies across the moors (Charlotte uses the old, melodramatic standby of a desperate voice crying out across the marshlands far more effectively than her sister Emily).

Against Jane's feminist-before-feminism self is Fukunaga's minimalistic elegance. Adriano Goldman's striking cinematography makes use of only natural light—the eerie glow of candles and the sun struggling to break through curtains—that constantly suggests menacing and oppressive forces underneath, until Jane and Rochester come out into the sunlight, their love blossoming outside that place he cannot escape. If that's not the crux of Jane Eyre, I don't know what is.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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