Saturday, March 26, 2011

Starting with Jane Eyre - the best adaptation yet

My mind has melted...I just watched the latest movie adaptation of Jane Eyre and all I could think was, I'd better write down my thoughts before I forget them all as I inevitably read through and gobble up all the reviews I have been avoiding online (so don't proceed until you've seen it - you've been warned!). I decided to start a blog again only because I'm tired of finding the same kind of reviews online. And it would be nice to see if there are like-minded people out there who obsess over the same details I obsess over when watching literary adaptations like this one. Before I begin, yes, I loved Cary Fukunaga's adaptation for so many reasons...but I should begin at the beginning of my adventures with this novel.

I remember reading Jane Eyre for the first time in elementary school. I don't exactly remember what grade I was in, but I thought I was in for something akin to Oliver Twist, another orphan tale of woe. And how wrong I was! I instantly identified with Jane - not that I was ever bullied by cousins or put in a reform school - but I admired how she stood up for herself in spite of her appearance and her position, no matter what. I do remember hating Rochester at first - and I actually wished that Jane had gone to India with St. John! But as soon as I re-read it (and I did so immediately), I ended up falling in love with Rochester because of his love for Jane. He saw what no one else could see, even as a blind man at the end.

As I re-read Jane Eyre for high school and for college (I even read a French translation just for the fun of reading a familiar text in another language), I became a little disenchanted with the novel. It just didn't hold my interest as much as Wuthering Heights or Jane Austen's novels. Charlotte Brontë famously accused Austen's novels of lacking proper passion, and after reading this, it sort of prejudiced me against her a little because I loved Jane Austen so much.

But this movie brought back all my affection for Charlotte Brontë and why I loved this book so much before. It was not only a fresh perspective but a new structure. I have pretty much seen all the various adaptations...Rochester played by Orson Welles (the worst!), Timothy Dalton (was my favorite until now), William Hurt (almost as bad as Welles), Toby Stephens and many others. In every single movie adaptation of this novel without exception, the movie begins with a young Jane Eyre. I was pleasantly surprised to see that this latest adaptation decided to start in a different place and automatically I got what the screenwriter and director was trying to do. Instead of the novel being a memoir that Jane is writing in the future...the movie is putting the audience into Jane's perspective and we see her life play out from childhood as she reflects on how she got to the Rivers' home.

When I saw Helen Burns at the Lowood School, I couldn't help but remember that recently departed Elizabeth Taylor had played her in the Joan Fontaine/Orson Welles adaptation. The scene between young Jane and Helen was wonderful and there was just enough time spent at Lowood in the movie to get a sense of how deprived of affection Jane's childhood was, but how that all-too-brief friendship and kindness from Jane prevented her from becoming the same as the other hardened teachers at the Lowood school. There's that last eye contact that she makes with one of the teachers who seemed to take a sadistic delight in beating Helen earlier - and for the briefest of moments, you could see a glimmer of jealousy that Jane was leaving that depressing school behind forever.

Having seen Michael Fassbender in the BBC series Hex and the movie Inglourious Basterds, I was really curious to see how he would do as Rochester. I've always thought he was dazzlingly handsome but in an ethereal way - maybe it's those beautiful eyes - and he definitely did not disappoint in this movie. I think he's a total chameleon...I remember getting both creeped out and drawn in by his character Azazeal in Hex. Here, he is just so intense and haunting - he puts as much of a spell on Jane as Jane puts on him. I didn't think anyone could best Timothy Dalton's performance but Michael Fassbender's performance was so captivating and mesmerizing. There's that scene when he is thanking her for saving his life and their faces get so close, you feel sure they are going to kiss...and then Jane pulls away.
I loved seeing how Jane fantasized about his coming to her - and eventually her hearing his voice in the winds sweeping across the moors. I visited the Brontë parsonage nine years ago and walked along the moors and heard the howling wind - I remember it sounding human at times - and I liked how the movie made Rochester's voice calling her name sound almost natural. No cheesy effects like how A&E superimposed Colin Firth's face onto the landscape when Elizabeth Bennet thought of Darcy in Pride & Prejudice. I did silently hope that they would not maim Fassbender too much at the end of the movie...and thankfully they only gave him a beard and no missing ears (will have to re-read book and see if I'm misremembering Rochester's disfigurement).

And I can't believe I haven't yet commented on Mia Wasikowska's performance! When I first heard that she was cast, I thought it was a brilliant choice. I first saw her in the HBO series In Treatment and I remember being blown away - I was thinking, "Who is she? She is going to go on and do amazing things!" And she was great in Alice in Wonderland and The Kids Are All Right, but she was so impressive here. The subtlety of her performance was totally in line with the naturalism of the whole production. There is a scene where she blushes and it just feels so real. I could really feel how Rochester falls for her almost from their first meeting. I was always surprised by Rochester's proposal, kind of like I was first surprised by Darcy's proposal in P&P. But even as there were rumors of his engagement to the vapid Blanche, it was clear in his manner and looks at Jane that he was smitten and that there was no other possibility than his marrying Jane. And it was so much fun watching Jane realize this truth!

More than anything, it was so nice to see them happy even as I knew that it wasn't going to last and that the madwoman in the attic would come to remind them of the reality they had yet to face. I liked that they didn't draw out this part of the story too much, and that they did try to emphasize how he was treating Bertha more kindly than most would in his position. Despite his insulting words about Adele, it is clear that he does love her though perhaps not as much as he loves Jane. This Rochester has a much more believable heart than any other adaptation - and you could see why he was trying so hard to fool himself into marrying with unfinished business weighing on him - he saw Jane as a sort of salvation from the miserable life he was leading...stuck in a hopeless marriage, stuck with an ex-lover's child, being sought after by all the eligible single women (or at least one) in the area. Here was a woman not only demanding to be treated as an equal, but also deserving to be one and to put him in his place.

The direction and especially Dario Marianelli's score were beautifully done...after I post this, I'm going to iTunes to buy it. It really helps bring in that haunting, sombre feeling that is set up in the movie. I loved how natural the lighting seemed...all of the candlelight and how dark it really was when a candle would go out. Also, I couldn't help but feel that when Rochester lit that fire for Jane, that it was a sort of foreshadowing of what was to come.

I can't wait to see it again!