Monday, October 31, 2011

"Jane Eyre" (2011) -- Initial Thoughts

We interrupt this blog absence to post about a movie I wanted to see when it came out months ago.  It wasn't playing anywhere near me, so I had to wait for it to show up in the Redbox machine.  In fact, this is the first movie I've ever rented from Redbox.  Hmm.  Also, it seems the last post I did was about a movie that also starred Michael Fassbender.  Hmm again.

Anyway, a bit of background here.  Jane Eyre is my favorite book.  I used to say it was my third favorite, but I've come to realize that no, I like it better than the others I had deemed my top two, so now it's my favorite.  I don't love everything about it -- the first part can get dull and didactic, and the third part gets somewhat serendipitous and saccharine.  But the middle... ohhhhhhhhh, the middle.  I first read Jane Eyre in high school, probably around the age of 17.  I blame it and Rebecca for my endless enchantment with Byronic Heroes.  Because honestly, I think Mr. Rochester pretty well out-Byronic-Hero-s Manfred.  (Only you fellow English Lit nuts will care or understand, I suppose, but I had to say that.)

Now, as I blogged about here this past spring, I absolutely love the 1983 BBC version of Jane Eyre, starring Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke.  So I started watching this version knowing that I probably wouldn't like it as well, but hey, it might have its good points too, and anyway, it'd been three months since I last watched an actual movie.  I watched it over three nights because I'm too tired, thanks to Baby Skittles and my two little hooligans, to watch a whole movie in one night.

There are aspects of this version that I quite liked.  I liked the bold choice of where to begin -- with Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) fleeing Thornfield Hall and eventually being rescued by St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters.  We were only inflicted with small flashbacks of her early life, not an hour or so of her being mistreated, and I liked that better than the other version's more strict adherence to the book.  The majority of the movie is a big flashback of Jane's arrival at Thornfield, meeting Mr. Rochester, falling in love, near-marriage, and then hooks up with the flight we saw at the beginning.  That worked pretty well, and it also kept the movie from having too much St. John Rivers in it.  Even though Jamie Bell kept Rivers from being quite as creepy and didactic as he usually comes off (even in the book), he couldn't help the fact that Rivers is priggish and can't hold even a tiny little votive candle to Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender).

Okay, so I liked the framing.  I was not a big fan of some of the cuts they made, however.  Yes, it's hard to turn a great big book into a 2-hour movie (the Dalton/Clarke version runs 4 hours), but they entirely cut out Grace Poole, instead having Adele tell Miss Eyre that Thornfield Hall is rumored to be haunted, and that is then our only hint that something might be amiss or creepy until Mr. Rochester's bed hangings catch fire.  Which, I might add, was an excellently played scene, with him leaping out of bed in much less of a night shirt than I had anticipated, putting out the fire, and then suddenly realizing that pants would be a really good thing to be wearing.

But I digress.  They added in a weird drawing in a hallway that they make a point of having Jane puzzle over a couple of times, but that is never explained, nor does it seem to have any real bearing on anything else that happens.  They cut out almost all of my favorite lines, including my most favorite ("Bigamy is an ugly word, gentlemen.  Well, I meant to be a bigamist."  How could they???).  And the final scene was like two minutes long and ended just when it was getting interesting!  I really hated how they chopped it off so abruptly.  It was very, "Oh, we only get two hours -- sorry, you can't have five more minutes to actually resolve anything here.  Too bad."  Grr.

Now, by and large, Michael Fassbender was an acceptable Mr. Rochester.  Even intriguing at times, though I found him strangely lacking in pizazz.  He was a much colder, more calculating Rochester than I'm used to -- Timothy Dalton is all passion and energy and stomping around in lovely black boots.  Fassbender was more abrupt and reserved, and almost leaned toward creepy once or twice with the way he would just watch Jane, especially at the beginning.  After how angry and broody Fassbender was in X-Men:  First Class, I was really hoping for a more interesting Mr. Rochester.  He did look really great in the period costumes, and there were some scenes where he came delightfully to life, but on a whole, I was disappointed.

As for Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre, the best I can say is she looked intelligent, and they did their best to make her look plain.  Most of the time, she reminded me of Claire Danes as Beth in Little Women (1994), which is not bad, it's just kind of... placid.  Jane Eyre is generally considered to be the first fully realized, realistic, three-dimensional heroine.  Charlotte Bronte created a character who is spunky, but also knows her place in life; who has great sense and feeling, but little knowledge of life; and who is only willing to link herself with someone she considers to be her personal equal, even if he is also miles above her in social standing.  She's not someone who waits around for things to happen -- she's curious, smart, and passionate.  In the 1983 version, Zelah Clarke plays her with humor, grace, and spirit.  In this version, Mia Wasikowska plays her with timidity, humility, and a kind of doe-like fearfulness.

And so, in the end, I was quite disappointed by this version.  The only aspect that did not disappoint me in the least was the presence of Dame Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax -- she was delightful as usual, and a bright spot in every scene she inhabited.  Even if they did give her this lame little speech at the end about how she had no idea the madwoman in the attic was Mr. Rochester's wife.

Which reminds me, I totally need to order this button: