Saturday, April 16, 2011

On my shelf: My favorite novel in film--Jane Eyre

If you are not familiar with the 19th-century novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, you are missing one of literature's long treasures. I say long because depending on the publisher the book runs into three and four hundred pages, a daunting read for our sound-bite age. To condense such a book into 120 minutes for screen is no easy task. Focus Features' 2011 version written by Moira Buffini, the screenwriter, and directed by filmmaker Cary Joji Fukunaga did it beautifully.
They found the essential story pieces and masterfully put them together,
taking well-worked liberties to tell the story in a fresh way.

The acting was superb. Michael Fassbender, as the moody, troubled Rochester, and Mia Wasikowska, as the beautifully passionate Jane, both brought energy and passion to the roles. Dame Judi Dench (Mrs. Fairfax) always brings her centered professional presence to any film. I feared Fassbender would seem too young (33 in 2010), but he did not. And Wasikowska (a young beauty) was made to look every bit the plain, young (19) Jane that Jane is.

I was glad important dialogue was left in Bronte's words. My favorite dialogue from the book, "It is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. was incorporated well. And lines and elements were added to fill in the gaps and develop the characters and story more fully within the film's limits. In one of the last scenes Mrs. Fairfax's character is developed even more when she asks Jane, "Why didn't you come to me? I had money saved up." That look at her caring heart made some of her earlier words to Jane seem less judgmental and harsh, showing her true character. I loved that liberty.

The settings were marvelous. The cold stone prospects of Gateshead Hall, Thornfield, Lowood school, and Jane's humble home on the moors looked authentic. I could feel the chill, smell the damp, and see the lonely moors. The settings were not comfortable, which suits my interpretation of them while I read the novel. And Thornfield seemed like a  maze that one could never quite follow, adding to the spook factor and it's own characterization (more on that).

The film was spooky; I startled twice. The filmmakers brought the novel's Gothic elements front and center without making it weird and completely otherworldly. One method they used was to follow dark scenes with bright, sunny scenes. The house was dark inside and a hulking gloomy mass from the outside. The gardens were a bit overrun. The noises within were not otherworldly but not quite human. Viewers unfamiliar with the novel should be able to tell that there is an explanation to all the creepiness that is not ghosts. The film never gives quite enough information to pull the house or its mysteries into full view, not until it's time. I once read a critique that suggested Thornfield Hall was a character in the novel. I believe it is true in this film.

The ending offered as many questions as answers, such as when Mrs. Fairfax emerges out of Thornfield's ruins. (Where exactly was she living?). I like that she told Jane the tragic tale, not the innkeeper as in the book. And when Jane sees Rochester for the first time in a year and sneaks up on him, the scene retained the important romantic factor of her surprising him. Bronte drew that scene in a far more romantic way with Jane serving him water inside the house. She continued on for a chapter or so to tell their happy ending. I suppose the movie was long enough without dragging out the happy ending.

Two big scenes from the novel were omitted that I would have loved to see how Fukunaga would have directed them: the fortune teller scene during a party, and the veil ripping scene, and yet the movie works just as well without them, as they are not essential elements for understanding the story in film. The backwards storytelling added mystery, and the flashback scenes were not jarring. Not going in a straight line made watching this familiar tale less familiar and more intriguing. But the film also comes full circle, so if you are lost, at the end, which I'm not sure how anyone could be, you can connect the dots.

This is a very short review and doesn't touch on the other characters or the music, also all well done. See more about the movie here: Focus Features' Jane Eyre

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