In case you failed to notice, I am a huge Jane Eyre fan. From the first time I picked it up after the third time I threw it against the wall in exasperation when I was 10, I was hooked. I just had to get past Lowood and —-shire because those people are JERKS and I didn’t understand why a whole book should be about a little girl’s misery.
But then I realized. And re-realized. And realized yet more times. And of course, I discovered Shirley. And Villette (I owe y’all a review of that one) My last trip to the Strand, I tried to find Agnes Grey but came away with the Tenant of Wildfell Hall which I tried to read on the train but hated every bit as much as I’ve hated it the last 3 times. But we know that’s no predictor of the future.
Anyway, the new Jane Eyre! The Dark and Gritty Reboot that Slate called “refreshing” and unGothic, featuring the solemn Mia Wasikowska and the degenerate but redeemable Michael Fassbender, comme c’est:
Since every Jane Eyre adaptation (Adapteyretion?) has a different emphasis – the Olivier emphasis was on Manners, the Timothy Dalton emphasis was on egregiousness, the BBC emphasis was on Passion and capital-R Romance and Family/Home (they had 5 hours to do it in, after all)- this one could be winnowed down to Relevance. It’s no Emma-to-Clueless transformation, but gone are the marriages between cousins, the evolution from student to teacher, the sense of geographical difficulty in traveling from Millcote to Thornfield to Ferndean to any other place you’ve never heard of…
What is still relevant to us today about Jane Eyre’s story, besides the obvious “water seeks its level” aspect of two kindred spirits finding eachother despite class and age and uh, marital status difficulties, is the Essential Nature of Self Respect. Jane cannot stay with Mr. Rochester as his mistress. She cannot fail to visit her aunt’s deathbed. She keenly feels her forcible immobilization as a woman of no family or means.
One of my favorite add-ins was a scene between Jane and Mrs. Fairfax that externalizes what, in the book, is merely Jane’s internal musing as she looks out over the rolling hills from Thornfield’s battlements. Mrs. Fairfax comes up behind her and Jane begins to speak of the suffocation, the feeling of being so without options, as a woman in this world. That sage lady recommends exercise and fresh air, but still. Jane’s liberation is giving voice in this adaption as it almost never is.
Another major features of this version, to me, is its service of the structure of the novel. Jane Eyre is a very symmetrical work – Jane and three miserable cousins, Jane at a school, Jane at Thornfield, Jane at her own school, Jane and delightful cousins, Reader I Married Him Epilogue. Beautifully constructed so you can view it as evolution or Fate or just a narrative device. The film opens with Jane fleeing Thornfield after the Mrs. Rochester reveal (another nice touch was Rochester’s explanation of what mad houses were at the time – a private suite with a caretaker in the attic was really the best anyone could have done, geez) the first two thirds are told in flashbacks while she convalesces at the Riverses. Bonus, Young Jane and little Adele were very similar-looking children, with large eyes and pale faces. It was easy to see how Jane could latch on to this little French popinjay.
The other physical element that took my breath away was the sheer visual texture of the film. I noticed lace patterns everywhere – curtains, carriage seats, veils, drapery, embroidery. The cue of Jane lacing and unlacing, dressing and undressing. When the Lowood teachers strip her high quality dress away, when she later tears off her wedding gown, the motion is the same, the conclusion – “I was never worthy of this in the first place” – identical. From stone masonry to cravat knots, this film was made in the details.
I felt like the film was trying to sprinkle a little modern psychology on Miss Eyre and her Edward. For the first time in cinematic rendering, we see the effects of child abuse and neglect on a young woman who cannot see the love waiting before her, who cannot access the passion we are repeatedly told that she has (and that we finally see in her artwork – none of the other productions featured her art so clearly) or the anger she is entitled to. It’s sheer luck she stumbles across a man so enticed by her lack of artifice that he’s able to awaken and lure out that mischevious streak (the one facet Wasikowska didn’t do justice to, but then it wasn’t really at home in the screenplay anyway).
Sigh. I loved it. Jamie Bell as St. John was hard to resist until he announced that since she was a missionary’s wife, she should be his missionary’s wife. We needed his doomed love for Rosamund Oliver to really soften him, but what they couldn’t do with screen time they largely did with casting.
If you haven’t seen it, see it.