It’s strange how well things can stick in your brain. I read “Jane Eyre” when I was a sophomore in high school for my English class. Let’s just say, I did not enjoy it very much. Now here I sit five years later voluntarily writing a review of the latest adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s gothic romance (yes, I learned that while in that high school English class). I was very intrigued going into it this time. I heard that Cary Fukunaga was directing it and that excited me. Fukunaga did 2009’s Sin Nombre, a movie about two people running away from Mexico from very different backgrounds seeking refuge in the United States, which I thought was good and was certainly very intense. Jane Eyre also brings in two blooming stars in Michael Fassbender (Fish Tank, Inglourious Basterds) and Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, The Kids Are All Right) which definitely made me want to see it more.
For those who don’t know, Jane Eyre is the story of a young, orphaned girl who spends her life mistreated by those all around her (imagine it as a dark telling of Cinderella). She holds fast to the little acts of kindness that surround her and is able to survive through her life, which she considers normal. Eventually, she gets hired on as a governess at Thornfield, a property owned by Edward Rochester, to teach a young French girl. When she arrives, she is thrown into the middle of a seemingly haunted mansion and eventually meets the cold, yet vibrant Mr. Rochester. From there the true story unfolds and I’ll just point out that the film is definitely a romance. A romance it is, but it is certainly intriguing. This is a storyline that is very dark and there are plenty of twists and turns and even depth in the relationship.
Fukunaga chooses to intertwine the end of story with that of the beginning throughout the first third of the movie, so that we experience most of Jane’s past in a flashback. It is understandable why she would do this as the book does have four main settings where Jane resides, but in this version it feels a bit rushed and forced. She seems to want to give us a period piece with all the costumes and rhetoric required, but ends up muddling through the plot.
As the film moves along however, it grows better and better. Wasikowska and Fassbender are both wonderful in their bantering and portrayals of two people who are both wounded by things that have happened in their past. Jane tries to shrug off her pain as if that is just how life is, while Mr. Rochester turns bitter and acts out in anger. As they grow and reveal parts of themselves, romance shines. Jane begins to feel love for the first time and becomes truly joyous for the first time in her life, but it wouldn’t be a dark film if it stayed that way would it?
The film cuts out many parts from the novel, but, to its credit, it really does nail the scenes it needs to nail, making it, overall, an effective and enjoyable movie. One that chronicles a romance, that even a romance movie skeptic like myself could find both believable and enjoyable.