31 March 2011

Three Times: Jane Eyre (2011)

Three introductory statements on my ignorance of Jane Eyre:

1. I haven't read the book because I'm not a girl (j/k!). I read Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea instead of Jane Eyre because presently American universities are overrun with post-colonialists (not j/k!). Nor had I seen any film adaptations (though now I kind of need to see Orson Welles go ham as Rochester). But what I enjoy about Jane Eyre, and seemingly all British classics, is that they're stories of captivity. Come to terms with it or die trying to escape. 

2. Charlotte Bronte's language is delightful. My favorite lines regard Jane's drawings, her "accomplishments," of which she says, "I'll save them until they're wanted." Ah, to believe that. And how could I have lived this long without hearing the heartbreaking way Jane asks of Rochester's proposal, "are you mocking me?"

3. There's a nice physicality to the piece, beginning with the way young Jane is whacked across the face with a heavy volume on birds. That's literature as I like it: concussive. 

Three helpings of praise for the lead actors:

1. My crush on Michael Fassbender is well-documented. In Jane Eyre, he has to hold back on his smolder a bit. To emphasize the fact that he's supposed to be a somewhat ugly, director Cary Fukunaga's camera backs away and Rochester recedes into dark corners. Though I was able to purr a bit at the cuddly red brocade robe he wore when locking his wife back up in the attic.

2. I've missed the films that have brought Mia Wasikowska to this stage but she's good as Jane. The series of poorly fitted dresses that droop around her shoulders help accentuate the sturdy neck into which her chin is often pointed. Wasikowska's best moments come when Jane checks herself for a moment before saying something really vicious. The scornful looks shot over teacup brims from her brown eyes are savory indeed.

3. Fassbender and Wasikowska together are able to remain coltish while falling for each other. "All governesses have a tale of woe," and "beauty is of no consequence," and "you transfix me quite," etc, etc. I got all the way to the end of the film wondering if they might hate each other just as easily as love each other. So the actors accomplished their main objective.

Three unfortunately curtailed sequences in Jane Eyre:

1. As a filmgoer, I like to linger but Fukunaga seemed to lack the trust to hold shots long enough. Right from the start he sets the camera casting after Jane as she flees over the moors. Just as I was starting to enjoy the way her blue and grey plaid matched the rain and rock, she's whisked away to safety. Fukunaga doesn't have to be Reygadas but I'd encourage him to move more deliberately through his set pieces.

2. At the height of Rochester and Jane's romance, the film moves outside on a day with a bit of actual sunlight. It's a sequence reminiscent of Pocahontas out of pocket amidst the topiary in The New World but without Malick's intuitive brilliance. Fukunaga has the lyricism but not the poetry.

3. After Jane leaves Thornfield and settles into even greater isolation, there's shot of her one room schoolhouse being snowed under. How sad that it lasts about three seconds--the mounting powder could have worked as the best symbol in the whole film. It's a wild, wild shot but gone before you can really see it.

Three reasons to be hopeful for the career of Cary Fukunaga:

1. He's excellent in the small details. After we see Bertha Mason locked in her attic framed with thick cobwebs, there's a quick cut to Jane rapidly unraveling the ties to the dress she wore for her aborted wedding. I also admire an earlier shot where a young girl's hair caught is incidentally caught in a bouquet of flowers--it helps underline the naturalism of this retelling.

2. Fukunaga gives a rack focusing master course for the sequence when Rochester throws a party for his rich neighbors and forces Jane to sit with them. Thanks to busy lensing, the two classes are never seen in focus at the same time. Jane is forever separate and we practically hear her resentment hissing.

3. I don't know many non-horror films with such an emphasis on the skin of its characters. Exploring some black passage of Thornfield, Jane comes across a portrait of a nude figure and brings her candle all the way up to the oil, showing darker layers of paint under the pink outer flesh. Especially in shots of Judi Dench and Fassbender by the hearth, the flickering light plays on their sallowness in a most unflattering way. Fukunaga thoroughly examines even the porcelain countenance of Jane, ready to expose any flaw.


Sarah said...

Enjoyed your review. You must read the book, immediately! Promise you, you'll love it.

kirk michael said...

Thanks. I've penciled in this summer as the summer of Austen and the Brontes.