Friday, January 11, 2013

Jane Eyre (2011)

Year 5, Day 11 - 1/11/13 - Movie #1,311

BEFORE: This film will wrap up my year-opening literary-based salvo - I've got other films based on more recent novels, such as "The Help" and "Precious" to get to, but I'll draw a distinction between modern books and "classic" literature.

Linking from "Little Women", Christian Bale was also in the 1989 version of "Henry V" with Judi Dench (last seen in "A Room With a View"), who appears in tonight's film.  It was mighty tempting to follow the Christian Bale connection and watch "The Dark Knight Rises" next, but I resisted.  I'll get there another way.

THE PLOT:  A mousy governess who softens the heart of her employer soon discovers that he's hiding a terrible secret.

AFTER:  At first I thought this was just another story about a woman finding her place and trying to marry above her station, as in "Vanity Fair".  It's weird that one of the girls in "Little Women" was also employed as a governess, so this is three films in a row about governesses.  (I guess that was just a common occupation for novel characters at the time.)

But something's not right at Thornfield Hall - once Jane finds employment there, she notices there are a lot of odd comings and goings, especially at night.  She's asked to aid one visitor who had been gravely injured somehow, and then one night there's a mysterious fire.   I won't give out any spoilers here, but I will say that I'm amazed that I never learned of the key plot point in this story before.

(NOTE: Like "Les Miserables", this is based on a jumbo-sized novel, and any movie or TV adaptation's probably got to do a fair amount of trimming, unless it wants to be a mini-series.)

The novel is separated into 5 distinct stages: Jane's childhood (when she is abused by her aunt and cousin), her education at Lowood School (when she is oppressed by her teachers), her time working for Edward Rochester as a governess, her time with the Rivers family, and the finale.  The film monkeys with the timeline by showing us the fourth stage first - it's clearly more dramatic since Jane is found wandering the Moors in a terrible state, but it removes the linearness of the story (and don't the filmmakers know I penalize for that?).

This moves the "big reveal" from Act 3 to Act 4, and makes us anticipate it for the whole film - I understand the reasoning, but I still don't condone it.  What they're really saying is, we admit that Act 4 is boring, at least compared to Act 3, so let's move it to the front of the film out of context, where at least it has a bit of mystery to it, since no one will quite understand what's going on yet.  It's the equivalent of a "splash page" in a comic book - the image of Jane in hysterics, sobbing while running through the English countryside, is perceive to have the highest visual impact, so let's lead off with it.

As for Rochester himself, it's hard to get a handle on him, though I think this film made a valiant effort.  What are we to make of a man who goes through a very public courtship with a noblewoman, yet professes his love for Jane in private?  Is he just playing all the angles, or if not, when is he being genuine? 

Once again, there are far too many coincidences for my taste in a work of 1800's literature.  In the novel, Jane Eyre stumbles through the moors and falls on the doorstep of a man who just HAPPENS to be related to her?  How does that happen?  This film works around that very improbable contrivance by having Jane propose that she come to live with the Rivers family and they can PRETEND to be related.

And once again, the main character is neither too rich or too poor.  I suspect that an author surmises that rich central characters will be despised, and poor ones will be pitied, and neither situation is preferable.  Here Jane Eyre comes from a noble family, but she also happens to be a penniless orphan.  She's well-educated, well-mannered, but works as a governess, a servant with perceived low social standing.  This dichotomy was also seen in "Vanity Fair" and "Little Women" - authors, please, pick a horse, would you?

Starring Mia Wasikowska (last seen in "Alice in Wonderland"), Michael Fassbender (last seen in "Centurion"), Jaime Bell (last seen in "The Eagle"), Sally Hawkins, Simon McBurney (last seen in "Friends With Money").

RATING: 6 out of 10 undelivered letters

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