Jane Eyre (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Jane Eyre (2011)

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There is danger in following the heart to the source of it's lust.  This idea is at the heart of many a great Gothic novels, and none were so adept at expressing this than in the proto-feminist writings of the Bronte Sisters.  But they had the problem of a straining social hierarchy, religious pressure, and an overall desire to repress all sexual thought.  The landscapes and words painted by the great Gothic novels beg to be filmed and have been repeatedly.

Their books have served as such fertile cinematic ground that this iteration of Jane Eyre is the fifth such film to bear the name.  I am unfamiliar with the source material, bits and pieces of which have wafted tantalizingly in front of me for some time and I need to correct that oversight.  I have also not seen any of the previous adaptations, one starring Orson Welles that has also topped my "to-do" list, but all of this has helped uncloud my mind in seeing this achingly gorgeous film.

This is the first English-language production of a director that is sure to have a very long and successful career.  His name is Cary Fukunaga an ambitious (and, must be said, improbably handsome) director who displays a strong kinship with Jane's painful story and telling it in a beautifully isolated style.

Jane's past ties in intriguingly with her present to tell the story of her angry genius.

But his method would not be as potent without performers of equal to skill to suggest what he is hinting at in the landscapes.  His leads, Mia Wasikowska (best known for last year's Alice In Wonderland) and and Michael Fassbender (Magneto in X-Men: First Class) never betray the forced repression of their social standing and place in history by playing their characters to the fully repressed hilt (as well as showcasing that the two of them have much better things to do than Tim Burton folly's and superhero reboots, respectively).

Fukunaga plays with the time and space of Jane Eyre as though it were a Victorian Atom Egoyan film.  He teasingly flashes back and forward through time, starting us near the end and swinging back and forth between Jane's (Wasikowska) past and her present.  A harsh childhood filled with tortures, lies and a cruel Aunt forced Jane to adopt an acerbic wit as her weapon and a distrust of the power supposedly represented by the men in her life (Amelia Clarkson, as young Jane, is almost every bit as good as her older counterpart).

When Jane's life finds her at the estate of Mr. Rochester (Fassbender) their relationship is stunted by their mutual aggression and social standing.  This sounds like the template for Pride and Prejudice were it not filled with such old wounds and hurts casually revisited by the two partners.  Their age difference is pronounced and problematic, particularly for Mr. Rochester's long-time caretaker Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench, fulfilling the period piece's contractual obligation to use her until she is dead).

Their relationship, in Wasikowska and Fassbender's hands, is intensely realized onscreen.  Wasikowska, wisely internalizing much of Jane's pain, stings with her dialogue and mastered the Meryl Streep method of acting entirely with her eyes and poise.  Fassbender has the flashier role, able to flaunt his position and power, but is no less subtle at hinting toward the pain that is keeping him from fully submitting to Jane's spirit.

Wasikowska and Fassbender make for a very potent onscreen pair.

Then there are all those lovely shots.  Adapting Gothic novels provides directors with ample opportunity to utilize their delicious descriptions in making the landscape another character, something that Fukunaga does with aplomb.  The fields lose whatever color they have and drain away into Jane and Mr. Rochester as the film progresses, isolating them further and further into their circle of desire as the land seems to continue to grow around them.  It threatens to destroy their passion at times, but breaks in the stylistic routine offer nature a chance to celebrate with them, be it a glint of sun during an unexpected kindness or the harsh rains turning into a romantic baptismal.  It's all as harrowing as it is remarkable, transcending normal period adaptations into something positively brutal and passionate.

I will be watching Fukunaga very closely.  He made a splash some years ago with Sin Nombre, a vastly acclaimed Mexican gangster tale, and now spins this powerful bit of business among us.  Fukunaga has quickly joined the ranks of Joe Wright and Ramin Bahrani, directors aching to mix emotion and craft while creating some of the best films of the last three years.

Jane Eyre is another warning shot from a potential master.  He knows how to handle passions that would otherwise be considered comical in lesser hands.  Through this lens we come to understand why and how Jane learns to live and love so strongly, and the aching isolation that comes with that passion.

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Jane Eyre (2011)

Directed by Cary Fukunaga.
Screenplay by Moira Buffini.
Starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.

Posted by Andrew

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