Saturday, 16 July 2011

“Am I a machine without feelings?”

Jane Eyre: directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga; written by Moira Buffini

My interest was piqued by the announcement of the recent film adaptation of Jane Eyre. I’ve never been a fan of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Literarily it’s considered to be a bildungsroman, a subtle gothic, a romance and even a feminist novel. For me, at its best – and worse – it’s a tawdry soap opera which goes on for about 200 pages too long. But, I’ve always thought that good films don’t necessarily have to be based on good books. The two mediums are intrinsically different and as little estimation I have for the actual novel (I wrote a particularly scathing paper on it last semester) the key bits of Brontë’s novel does harness cinematic potential. And, so, I approached Jane Eyre not so much with trepidation but with anxiousness. Although Mia Wasikowska’s appeal eludes me, I’m willing to believe in her potential and Michael Fassbender is one of the most talked about actors of the time and with Sally Hawkins, Jamie Bell and Dame Judi Dench rounding out the cast my interest was, as I said, piqued.
The film opens with a scene that occurs two-thirds into the actual novel. Jane, in the midst of marshes that seem taken from a Wuthering Heights scene (written by the better Brontë) trudges along visibly shaken and on the road to being comatose it seems. She’s taken in by a group of strangers and with that we move to the beginning of her life. One of my many issues with Brontë’s novel stems from the inconsistency in Jane’s characterisation. Even though she narrates the novel it’s difficult to reconcile the random bursts of emotion with a heroine who seems essentially leaden for the most part. The first thirty minutes functions as a speedy sparknotes version of the novel’s first third. It’s a wise decision – in theory; really, the novel is so dense with potential plot-points (not all of them wisely developed) that it’s wise that Buffini accelerates the film towards the introduction of Mr Rochester.
For all its feministic ideals Jane Eyre is essentially a story of girl meets man, man is typically aloof, they fall in love, he has a secret she runs off and at the end they reconcile. It sounds bitter of me, but it is what it is. Its story is not a mellifluous study of class consciousness; it is a love-story and a basic one, at that. Buffini, though, approaches the material with what seems to be a striking reverence and doesn’t seem keen on making the material any less than Masterpiece Theatre – and it is not. I kept wishing for her to make the story her own, forgive me sounding like a platitude. Her adaptation is serviceable but it retains all the parts of the novel I find most vexing. Why IS Rochester attracted to Jane? And she to him? For a love that should be so striking wouldn’t a marriage of convenience to a woman who’s insane be such a tough hill to climb? And, if it was why does Jane set out to Rochester at the end still thinking that he’s married?
I suppose I could forgive my reservations with the actual story if everything else was flawless, but it isn’t. I know, I tend to get a bit tongue-in-cheek with my ebullient love for the Brits, and periods and I find it even more odd that I’m so reticent about this one which most seem to appreciate. But, I find Mia Wasikowska especially vexing. Again, I bear no ill-will towards the actress. I forgive her awfulness in Alice in Wonderland, but her Jane – though realistic in the sense of the novel seems too detached to be a functional leading lady and Mia’s constant Australian accent annoyed me much more than it should and it’s unfortunate because she’s flanked by two actors in particular who offer up fine performances. Mrs. Fairfax has never been a riveting character, but Judi Dench manages to find something personal in it. But, it’s Michael Fassbender who’s the real fine – it’s such a superlative performance that I kept wishing his Mr. Rochester could leave this film, and transport to another where his work would be better appreciated. It’s not that Fukunaga adaptations gets many things wrong, it just doesn’t get enough right for me to care about it. It looks beautiful, it's shot excellently and Dario Marianelli's score is falwless and true Fassbender’s brilliant, but something is lacking...



anahita said...

I so want to watch this - I love Michael Fassbender. Btw it's Charlotte Bronte, Emily did Wuthering Heights :) I'm a geek I know, but I love them so much!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

anahita you know, i meant to change that - how embarrassing for an english major. if you like fassy, see it.

Anonymous said...

"...Mia’s constant Australian accent annoyed me..." i don't think you know what an Australian accent sounds like