I recently got to see “Jane Eyre” starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. I had wanted to see it when it first arrived in theaters; but alas, it was only select theaters, because we apparently hate British things.
So I sat down with wine and popcorn (it’s legit) to watch.
First off, they did a splendid job capturing the Gothic mood of the story. I particularly liked that they started out with Jane fleeing from Thornfield, and giving the rest as a flashback explaining how she came to this point of desperation. They didn’t portray many scenes from her childhood, but that’s just as well. Too much of it is quite frankly depressing, and we still got to see a skinny ten year old girl beating up a fifteen year old boy carrying a sword. The scene with Helen was absolutely touching; probably the only part where I felt like I was going to cry. (But I always cry at that anyways.) And I thought they did a good job of “plain-ing” Wasikowska up. They also did an excellent job of setting up Thornfield as a place of deep mystery. I liked little Adele, though she didn’t get much screen time. It’s clear she learned her dancing from her Maman. (The expressions on Jane’s and Mrs. Fairfax’s faces were rather hilarious.)
Now, on the bad points. I felt the movie was rushed. I’m aware that to adapt everything from the book would force them to make another miniseries. But I feel like they skipped through a lot of nuances just to get to “Jane and Rochester stare at each other” and “Jane and Rochester kiss”. And therein lies another problem. In the book, passion was subtle but pervaded every bit of dialogue. In the movie, you really couldn’t catch it. They portrayed the passion as overtly and physically as they could for a movie adapted from a 19th century novel. This is not bad in and of itself; but part of the beauty of the book was reading those intense conversations and catching their undertone.
However, the sticking point for me was how desperately the filmmakers tried to erase as much of sensible Christianity as possible. You have the Christianity of Mr. Brocklehurst and St. John Rivers; but, apart from a single childhood outburst, Jane’s motivations seem completely detached from Christianity. Instead of getting a counterbalance to the hypocrites portrayed, we get a vague, flighty sort of spiritualism. Jane doesn’t run from Rochester because she fears temptation, and believes it wrong to live together unmarried, and while Rochester is married to another; no, she flees simply because she needs to “respect herself”. While that’s one motivation, having this as a sole motivation reduces her to a feminist prototype instead of a strong, morally upright woman struggling between “what is right and what is easy”. Instead, perhaps fearing that people wouldn’t understand Jane if she was “too Christian”, they ripped a big part of the book out, turning it into a bland romance about a rich guy and a poor girl.
So, overall, it’s not a very good watch. It has some good elements, but they are superficial compared to what was taken out of it.