Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Classic Love Story Retold

After waiting very impatiently for more than two months for the latest film version of Jane Eyre to be shown in Jacksonville, I was finally able to see it at 5 Points Theatre last weekend, and it didn’t disappoint. I won’t go into too much detail about the book itself, or the previous film versions, as I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with the story of the intelligent and brave Jane Eyre and her love – the brooding, secretive Edward Rochester. The title character was played by the talented Mia Wasikowska, who was recently in several popular films, including Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and the award-winning The Kids Are Alright. I had actually never seen her work and I was happy to come in with a clean slate where she was concerned. I must say she played the perfect Jane. Mr. Rochester was played by Michael Fassbender, who is becoming a favorite of mine. For the record, I think he showed an incredible amount of talent in his role in Inglourious Basterds. Also, for the record, I may be a little biased because I think he is as sexy as the day is long. Regardless, I am very excited to see what he’ll do in the future and can’t wait to see him in X-Men First Class. With the sexy, Irish Michael Fassbender and the dreamy, Scottish James McAvoy, I may need medical attention after seeing that one. But, I digress.

The story of Jane Eyre was written by a young Charlotte Bronte in 1847 and, in retrospect, is considered way ahead of its time. Jane is our story’s heroine and her tale is one of sadness, love, redemption and happily-ever-after. But she isn’t beautiful, simpering, or helpless. Our Jane is poor and plain (although the natural beauty of Wasikowska can’t help but shine through). She is a very composed young woman. She has seen enough hardship to last a lifetime before she even reaches her teens. She is incredibly intelligent, introspective and curious about the world. She feels trapped by the bounds placed on her, but she doesn’t let this keep her from living and wanting and dreaming. The movie really breezes through her rough childhood years and, as a result, leaves out some of the specifics from the book. I’m sure some Jane Eyre purists have criticized this, but I was pleased with it. I wanted to see Jane as a woman with fears and desires, overcoming her terrible circumstances to make her way in the world and, eventually, with Mr. Rochester.

The movie doesn’t waste much time getting into the meat of the story – Jane’s acceptance of a position as governess at the beautiful but remote Thornfield Hall, and her introduction to and eventual relationship with its owner, Mr. Rochester. The portrayal of the relationship between the two main characters is superbly done. I was actually surprised to read some complaints about Fassbender as Mr. Rochester. In the book, he is a volatile man, prone to moodswings that border on insanity, and some of that moodiness is probably missing from the movie. However, I personally loved Fassbender’s version. He made me feel all warm and weird and fuzzy inside. The character of Edward Rochester is what is known as a “Byronic hero,” popularly portrayed in many gothic love stories over the years. The term is derived from descriptions of the early-19th century poet Lord Byron, who was once described by a former lover as “mad, bad and dangerous to know.” In other words, completely irresistible to women (such as myself). A Byronic hero is mysterious and brooding enough to set even the toughest gal’s heart all a-flutter. His intentions are always in question. One never knows if he is a good man that is simply misunderstood, or the devil himself. Fassbender plays this role like he was born for it. He does a perfect job of keeping Jane off-kilter, questioning his words and actions at every turn. He is somehow sinister and loving, all at once. But Rochester develops one weakness, and that is Jane Eyre. He is captivated by her – her seemingly stoic composure, her “direct gaze.” He comes to love her so much that he becomes determined to do the impossible and make her his own (if you don’t know why it’s impossible, I won’t spoil it for you. Go read the book or watch the movie).

Fassbender and Wasikowska each played their roles so well they are forever burned into my brain as Edward and Jane. The chemistry between the two of them was perfect. I must also note Jamie Bell’s performance as the strict, but soft-hearted Mr. Rivers and Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax. Both roles were played very well. The movie was also very atmospheric and haunting. The scene where Jane first encounters Mr. Rochester in the forest was sufficiently dark and gloomy and creepy and awesome.

I was simply enthralled by Jane Eyre. I fell in love with the story once again. I went to see it with a girlfriend, who had never read the book or seen any of the film versions. She was new to the story of Jane. At around the mid-point of the movie, she leaned over and whispered to me, “this is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a very long time.” Well said.


  1. Good review! I waited SO LONG for this to come to Tallahassee (I think I saw it about a month ago?) and I was not disappointed. I've been a Jane Eyre fan for a long time, and of the different movie versions that I've seen, I would definitely want to watch this one above the others.