Saturday, June 7, 2014

Jane Eyre Watch-a-thon: Jane Eyre (2011)

Hello Readers! While a few days later than I promised, here is my next installment in the Jane Eyre Watch-a-thon. I decided to watch another feature length version rather than set aside a solid five hours of my life for a more comprehensive version. In fact this movie is Hollywood's most recent Jane Eyre adaption.

Jane Eyre (2011)
Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester
Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre
This version has a runtime of 2 hours
Here is the link to the IMDb webpage:

I'm going to be honest. When this version first came out I was very excited and the minute that it was released on DVD I watched it. Subsequently I was so disappointed and even angry that the mere mention of this movie sent me on like a ten minute tirade. At that moment in my life I was so desperate to find a faithful adaption of my favorite book and I still hadn't discovered the more comprehensive versions. It's now been three years since my one and only viewing of Jane Eyre 2011 and I decided to give the movie another chance with an open mind. I think it also helped that the 1934 and 1943 versions set the bar really really low. Just to mix it up a little I've decided to start with the cons and end the post on a more uplifting note with the pros.

  • Those who have seen this adaption probably can guess my first complaint, which is of course the decision to start the film essentially in medias res with Jane running away from Thornfield and then finding her way to St. John. The decision as a result posits the majority of the plot as flashbacks, which is really a rather awful choice. Why you ask...well part of what I do when watching these adaptions is to make an effort to place myself in the shoes of someone who hasn't been previously exposed to anything related to Jane Eyre. I found that the constant time shifts made the narrative choppy and confusing. In my mind I found myself instinctively filling in the gaps in the story to make sense of it all, something just your average movie watcher would have a hard time accomplishing. The audience is also introduced to a visibly upset woman and they don't find out why she is upset until an hour or so later and by that point the audience gets the incredibly boring pleasure of re-watching the same beginning footage. I have to wonder if the creators of the movie were attempting to mirror the pain Jane feels after leaving Rochester with her childhood experiences, but then I'm pretty sure I'm reading too much into the movie and it was done only to provide an adaption different from all the others. I just have one more gripe about this narrative choice to talk about, but I think it's one of the more dire consequences. What makes Jane Eyre so endearing to so many people is the fact that it provides the narrative of a woman born in the worst of circumstances with a harsh and treacherous childhood who undergoes a strengthening process. She develops her own sense of morality, spirituality, and independence that is really very admirable. The end of novel isn't just Jane finally getting the man she loves, it's her own character's triumph. This film doesn't give us this captivating process. Instead at the very beginning of the movie and for the majority of the plot Jane Eyre is portrayed as inherently vulnerable with one or two moments that showcase a vaguely independent spirit.
Well that was an insanely long bullet-point. Time to move on!!!

  • While understandable considering the time limit of this film, I did find that the movie felt very rushed. Events just sort of happened without any explanation and major plot points just ran into each other. For example, the audience is never shown any scenes that indicate Jane has grown up and become a teacher at Lowood school. Instead, the movie has a confusing scene with a bunch of girls saying goodbye to Ms. Eyre. Are those girls her students? Why is Jane leaving? Where is she headed? Well unless you've read the book or seen a different adaption you'll have absolutely no idea. Another scene to illustrate my second point is when Rochester goes to confront Jane about why she left the party so early. Rather than have the complete scene, which would continue to paint Rochester is a positive light, the dialogue is interrupted by Mrs. Fairfax who informs Rochester that Mr. Mason is here. It's like a car crash of major plot points.
  • Additionally, aside from a whispered mention by Mrs. Fairfax and her brief mention after the botched wedding ceremony Grace Poole does not play any sort of role in this movie. In fact if you were just a slight bit distracted while watching the film you could manage to miss her presence completely. Out of all the secondary characters this movie chooses to include (both Reed daughters and both of St. John's sisters) Grace really should have been incorporated. 
  • Speaking of missing or underrepresented characters there is no Rosamund Oliver, St. John and his sisters are not revealed to be Jane's cousins, and Blanche is not given enough screen-time to even make it believable that she is Rochester's potential wife and Jane's romantic rival of sorts. 
  • Another huge problem that I had with this film adaption is the fact that as much as I really wanted there to be, there was zero chemistry between Jane and Rochester. Rather than romantic tension viewers were treated to a number of awkward stares and moments of stiff dialogue. What a shame really.
  • My final critique of this 2011 adaption is the ending all together. Rochester's injuries have of course been lessened to blindness and an unfortunate beard. 

Good luck kissing with that awful beard

What is supposed to be the triumphant reunion of the two main characters is reduced to a 3 minute scene with a few lines of dialogue, some awkward kissing, and a hug. What an unsatisfying ending.

Before I get to the surprising number of positive aspects of this adaption, there were some parts of the film that I couldn't decide whether or not I liked them. 
  • Jane's childhood had a ton of potential, but was sadly hampered by the time limit, particularly since it seems they had a great set of actors. The small amount of time actually devoted to her childhood did feature quality scenes where audiences are shown the cruelty of John and his mother, Mrs. Reed. One particularly great line that stood out for me was when Mrs. Reed informs Brocklehurst that "As for its vacations, it must spend them all at Lowood." This adaption's version of Brocklehurst is a lot tamer than the others, but that isn't necessarily bad considering he isn't meant to be a villain. Even this version's Helen is really great, but she dies before audiences get a chance to emotionally connect with her and her friendship with Jane
  • This adaption also manages to craft an almost perfect gothic atmosphere, with one or two obnoxious slip-ups. Unlike the 1943 version which had shrieking background music and a dark and oppressive tone, this adaption relies heavily on natural light, which provided the perfect authentic balance between lights and shadows. Although there were a number of moments that I'm pretty sure were crafted to make the audience jump or flinch which detracted from the mood. This is a gothic romance, not a slasher flick.   
  • The last aspect of the film that inhabits the space between pro and con is actually in relation to the deleted scenes. After finishing the complete movie I went over to YouTube to watch some of the scenes not included just out of curiosity and was completely perplexed as to why these integral scenes were cut. Excluding the horrifying clip of Adele screaming, the rest of the scenes dealt with important background information and plot points. In particular they cut out Rochester talking about Adele's parentage and the scene where Bertha rips Jane's veil. Honestly they could have cut out all of those annoying scenes where Jane spends forever looking out windows and it would have left plenty of room for these deleted scenes.
"Oh look another window!! Time to act all pensive and emotional for a solid 3 minutes."

Now it's time to leave behind all of the negativity and talk about the successes of Jane Eyre 2011.

  • One of the most outstanding features of this movie has to be the soundtrack. Rather than obnoxious oboes, this version has some beautiful crafted music that sets the right mood for every scene. The music playing right after Jane finds out about Bertha was so perfect that I almost got emotional. Honestly everyone should give Dario Marianelli a huge round of applause for his excellent work.

  • Another positive aspect of this film is the decision to cast lead actors that accurately represent the age difference between Jane and Rochester Many versions have a Jane that looks somewhere in her late twenties, which makes it easy to forget that Jane is young and inexperienced as far as romantic relationships are concerned. 
  • The movie also manages to accurately portray Adele and her relationship with Jane rather well. I appreciate that they had a child actor that spoke mostly French throughout the entirety of the film and that there were plenty of scenes showing Jane teaching Adele. What I find really annoying in other adaptions is the fact that Jane's sole purpose at Thornfield is to be Adele's governess and yet audiences maybe get one scene where appears to be teaching Adele something. 
  • I can't talk about the best parts of this film without including Judi Dench's portrayal of Mrs. Fairfax. She actually gave life to a character that often fades into the background, but of course I would expect nothing less than excellence from her. In this adaption I did get the sense that Jane and Fairfax developed a friendship over the course of their time spent at Thornfield and I loved the scene where Fairfax tells Jane she would have helped her if only she had asked.
  • There is one scene in particular that I just have to draw attention to before I wrap up this rather lengthy post and that is the dialogue between Jane and Mrs. Fairfax before Jane leaves to post a few letters. The difficulty with adapting Jane Eyre is that a large portion of the book deals with Jane's inner thoughts and her own personal growth, which is hard to capture in a movie format. This particular scene where Jane talks about her desire to travel and to live a life full of freedom like men do provides a brief reflection of the kind of thoughts Jane has while at Thornfield, something all of the adaptions should do.
Well, that completes another installment in my Jane Eyre Watch-a-thon series. Have you seen this most recent adaption of Jane Eyre? Do you agree or disagree with anything I've said? Don't forget to stick around for my next post in the series and a couple of book reviews I've already started planning. Best Wishes!!
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