Friday, September 30, 2011

Top 10 "Jane Eyre" Leaving Scenes

Edit May 16, 2018: For updated and added reviews and content, visit my new website Lit Lovers & Corset Laces

Blurry eyed, I dogeared the last page of the chapter and placed it neatly under my pillow (a habit of mine when I read a book before going to sleep). Warm tears pushed past my lashes and silently made their way down my cheeks. Thus, this is how I passed the first few moments after reading Chapter Twenty-Seven of Jane Eyre. I had never cried over the pages of a book before; no written word had ever moved me in such a way. But I felt such agony in Jane's words; an indescribable sense of torment and strength intermixed in one soul.

Chapter Twenty-Seven earned a special place in my heart. The proposal had been enjoyable. I remember halting, sticking a finger in the page and sitting still for a moment to contain the erratic beating of my heart after Rochester uttered the words "equal" and "likeness". However, Chapter Twenty-Seven touched the very depths of my mind and heart. After experiencing my first heartbreak (one rather relatable to Jane's circumstances), I reread the pages only to stain them with tears again. It was then that I decided to become a woman more like Jane Eyre. She was a girl not much older than I. If she could face the world (and the man begging her to succumb to beautifully tempting destruction) with shoulders squared and chin up, why couldn't I? 

Such are the reasons why the "Leaving Scene" is single-handedly the most important portion of any adaptation in my mind. The proposal is important, but I allow myself to make certain excuses in that area. The leaving scene is given no optimism. It is scrutinized with weighty contemplation. If disgraced, the movie itself cannot be seen in a positive light. I've been brimming with anticipation; waiting for the day when I might rank this scene and share it with you, readers. That day is here. 

But this ranking is actually a lot different from my previous rankings. Often times I admit to you that "this narrowly made it past" or "this could have been a tie". These rankings, however, are concrete. I have placed each in the exact spot that I think it should be, and in my mind that place is permanent (until another adaptation comes out and I have to factor it in). Of course, to you I might have made some hideous mistakes so (as always) I encourage comments! 

#10: Jane Eyre 1934

The magnitude to which this scene was dismantled and butchered was so horrible that it was insanely funny (as was the rest of the movie). I couldn't bear to watch it, and yet I replayed it three times just to give myself a good laugh. In circumstances such as these, one can't help but laugh. If I had expected something good then I might have been angry, but after the first five minutes of the film I knew that it wouldn't amount to anything. At least we can give it some credit where we couldn't render it in other scenes. Even that isn't worth mentioning, however. I can barely keep a straight face while writing this paragraph when I think of how Bertha just marches straight into the room and asks, "Are we getting married again?"
Grade: F-

#9: Jane Eyre 1996

Now this actually did anger me for the simple reason that the leaving scene doesn't even exist. There's no possible way that one could even call this a leaving scene! It's merely a quick conversation on Jane's way out the door. In fact, it reminded me of when I leave for school in the morning. My mother stumbles into the kitchen just as I'm packed and on my way out. "I love you," she says. I give her a quick "I love you too" and then leave. Such is the same principle in this leaving scene, only there is a "this is the last time I can say it" after the "I love you too." It is catastrophic! To spend less than a minute on one of the most pivotal parts of the novel when time has been wasted in other areas of the adaptation is an unforgivable sin in my eyes. My face burns at the thought of it. Yet, even this ruinous mistake might have been redeemable if Charlotte Gainsbourg had left the room with even the slightest trace of suffering, conflict, or something! The woman just walks out as if she's departing for a casual walk.
Grade: F

#8: Jane Eyre 1949

Despite the fact that the adaptation was butchered from top to bottom, the director must have still understood the sanctity of the scene because it ended up being the best part of the adaptation. Yes, it was still horrible; but at least it was there (even with its brevity). Jane once again has the dilemma of being too nonchalant about leaving, but Charlton Heston puts up a decent effort that isn't all that bad. He holds her veil in his hands and then, after sensing the merest movement, jumps from where he stands and pleads, "Jane, you won't leave me?" in a way that even evokes a little bit of emotion. Kneeling before her he summarizes a chapter in two sentences and then the scene is done, but at least there was something. It wasn't good, please don't get me wrong. It failed miserably. But it worked enough to actually rank above ninth place.
Grade: F

#7: Jane Eyre 1997

Ciaran Hinds must have been just as angry as I was. Yes, that last sentence was a little bit of a joke, but it's the only plausible explanation because the only emotion I received from those five minutes was grouchiness. Jane walks through the door; he follows her and yells at her, mocking her for being so "immature" when he's the one throwing a temper tantrum. She goes down the stairs and he's still yelling at her. They go out to the garden and he's still yelling. Rochester is many things during his last effort to keep Jane, but he was most certainly not angry. From what I recall there are moments of passion and frustration, but they come and go. When he yells, Jane starts to cry and in a moment he is at her side comforting her and apologizing. When he grabs her in a firm grip, he realizes that it can do nothing because "it is her soul that he wants and not alone her brittle frame." Hinds just yells. Compound that with the fact that the script strayed significantly from the path the novel laid out and made the movie seem like some sappy soap opera, and it almost makes me cringe. I would much rather hear lines of Brontean language than the blatant cheesiness of, "I'm leaving for us, Edward; for what we have." Oh, and Rochester DOES NOT just let Jane walk out!
Grade: F+

#6: Jane Eyre 1973 

The first part of this scenes is done beautifully. The look with which Michael Jayston walks through the door brought tears to my eyes before Jane even fell into his arms. He is downtrodden, hopeless; tender. As he takes her in his arms and inquires whether her heart has been weeping blood he says it as if his own heart has been doing the same. However, this is as far as the greatness extends. When the setting changes, so does the performance; heading in a downward spiral into nothingness. I was never a strict fan of Sorcha Cusack's take on Jane, but I can soundly say that she was not so bad here. She made it clear that Jane's love for Rochester was still strong but still managed to capture the independence Jane needed to leave. However, Michael Jayston's performance declined. Perhaps it's just me, but I found no urgency in Rochester's plea. There is no sense of absolute need. Not to say that this scene isn't good, because it is. The adaptation as a whole was solid, but it was only solid and nothing beyond that.
Grade: C-

#5: Jane Eyre 2006

Oh yes, this version sure did take a drop. Were you surprised? After all my previous rankings, one would think that this scene would take another spot in the top three. Nope. Sorry to you diehard '06 fans, but despite all the arguments given to me as to why I should like this scene, I still don't. There is no fallacy in chemistry, I will admit that. Ruth and Toby have a magnetism on camera that is spiritually palpable in every scene, including this one. The major error that brought this scene so far below the mark was the lack of faithfulness. The truth of the matter is that despite the blazing passion between the two characters, Jane and Rochester did not make out in Jane's room the night before she left. And even that pales in comparison to the fact that all of the original dialogue from Chapter Twenty-Seven of the novel was discarded. I'm pretty sure that I might not have minded the kissing so much if it had contained at least ONE sentence identical to that in the book. As it is, the scene is just hideously unfaithful and catered much too much to a younger audience. '06 fans will argue that placing Rochester on top of Jane with his lips on hers gives the viewer an idea of just how much temptation Jane was faced with. That is very true. Yet, it does not eradicate the lack of dialogue. I'm sure the scene provided a lot of sex appeal for new readers, but there has to be a balance between a fresh take on the story and the preservation of the essentials.
Grade: C+

#4: Jane Eyre 1944

The main reason for the 1944's fourth-ranked spot was the fact that Rochester's lines were delivered beautifully and with a commendable faithfulness to the book. He commands the entire scene. Joan Fontaine gets drowned out by Orson Welles intense stares and dazzling delivery of Rochester's last plea. She was already done a disservice by that lack of lines given to her during the scene, but Joan Fontaine was still too vulnerable to be the decisive Jane we needed to see in this scene. The version ranked so high not so much because of its greatness (though it is decidedly great) but because of the lack of competition given from other versions. However, I do not wish to strip all credit away. Orson Welles' performance during this scene was absolutely powerful. His eyes never stray from Jane. It is almost as if he's afraid to take them off of her for fear that she might slip away while he blinks. As he recaps on the first night he ever laid eyes on her, my eyes never fail to fill with tears. The tenderness and yet strength with which he speaks to her is gorgeous, and as he slips from behind the shadows and cries out to her asking if she still loves him I always feel the beginnings of the first tear slipping from my lashes. Beautifully done, Orson. Horribly underrated!
Grade: B 

#3: Jane Eyre 1983

The 1983 finds itself in the top three once again. With Timothy Dalton playing Rochester, where can you go wrong? I have an answer for that. In almost every way, this scene was nearly perfect. The script once again proves extremely faithful. Zelah Clarke (who I have a tendency to be critical of because of her age and composure) stepped her game up and surged her character with emotion. The problem here is that Timothy imbues his with a bit too much emotion. In other words, there were various points in this leaving scene where the performances were borderline cheesy. Disagree if you wish, but to me there is a want of artistic restraint in Timothy's outbursts of passion. I'll put some of this down to the fact that this is actually a relatively old adaptation, but I can't omit it completely. Sometimes our leading man needs to learn that less is more (in some cases). Of course, there is striking beauty in this scene as well or else it wouldn't have taken the third spot. There are decided moments of pure perfection such as when Rochester asks, "Do you mean to go one way in the world and leave me to go another?" And as he kisses her forehead and the glimmer of that one tear sliding down his cheek catches the light, I am completely taken in. Never has a kiss on the forehead or cheek seemed so filled with passion and desire. The emotion present in those few kisses easily beat out many sex scenes in modern movies. I loved it. 
Grade: B+

#2: Jane Eyre 1970 

There is almost a lack of words to describe just how profoundly this scene touched me. It is not the most faithful, but it does a wonderful job of integrating modern vernacular with specific quotes from Chapter Twenty-Seven of the novel. George C. Scott and Susannah York share the scene with equal footing. No one overpowers the other; they work together to compose a scene of raw passion and bared souls. We do not know what Jane will choose; they each argue their case so well. She insists to be recognized as the fortress she is, and then he lays his hands on her waist and looks up with pleading eyes and we wonder if she's making the right choice. Susannah's Jane is mighty, and yet still loving. We are never in doubt of her feelings for the man opposite her. George C. Scott's Rochester is taciturn at first, but with a mere flicker of the eye his entire face changes as if he knows he can never stay angry with her. We get the overwhelming sense that Rochester does indeed need this woman. That is what a leaving scene should be like. The audience should feel the same uncertainty that Jane herself is feeling. She is resolved to leave, and yet at moments she feels as if it is impossible to wrench herself away. So she does what the Jane in the novel did. She allows Rochester to go to bed (or in this case, fall asleep sitting in a chair) with neither a promise to stay or a resolution to leave. When the early morning hours arrive, she vanishes because it is the only way she can bring herself to leave. She knows that if he wakes then he will successfully change her mind. Lovely, lovely, lovely scene from top to bottom.
Grade: A-

#1: Jane Eyre 2011

I can hear the grumbles already. In many other rankings I have often admitted to just how close the 2011 was to another. In this one I have absolutely no doubts or regrets. This leaving scene is just the best, hands down. I have not seen a leaving scene close to its equal. The whole scene is only five minutes, but yet I feel as if it captured Chapter Twenty-Seven the best. There was obvious faithfulness to Bronte's language, but the way in which Wasikowska and Fassbender delivered the lines was so natural that it seems to flow off of the tips of their tongues. Mia's performance is filled with genuine and almost tangible emotion. With each flash of the camera her eyes fill more. Yet, for most of the scene she is determined to repress them. I can feel her soul tearing. After each of Rochester's lines there is a slight pause; a pause that means the world. Those simple pauses tell the audience that Jane is torn; that she earnestly wishes to do what Rochester is asking her to but that she knows she can't. When her tears finally spill forth, so do mine. In that moment Mia Wasikowska is Jane. And when she says "You have a wife", she does so in a way that makes us feel as if it hurts her to utter it aloud. Michael Fassbender matches her intensity with every word. Laying on the floor outside of Jane's door, the first thing we hear from him is tenderness. That tenderness escalates to urgency, and that urgency spills over into unrepressed passion. There is no kiss in these scene, and yet that moment when he takes Jane's neck into his hands I feel the sexual tension; the repression of the desire that each character is trying so hard to fight. And then he cries, "It is your soul that I want." At that moment all hearts (including mine) have completed the process of breaking and I am fully assured that there is no leaving scene to equal this.
Grade: A+


  1. I totally agree with you: this is the most important scene in the book.

    Overall I agree with your order of scenes. I would place 1983 at no. 2 at least (I think Tim's theatricality suits the scene, although I can see why some wouldn't like it) and I was surprised to see JE70 so high on the list! I've only seen it once or twice before and I just watched it again on Youtube. It's actually quite good! I wouldn't place it above 1983, but definitely high upon the list.

    2011 is indeed fabulous. I was so happy(if you can be happy after a scene like that) the first time I saw it.

  2. I wrote this post over a period of days mostly because of my abundance of homework (and therefore lack of time) but also because I wanted to give myself ample time to watch and soak in the strengths and weaknesses of each scene. I was actually done with the post on Thursday, and at that point the 1983 was actually second. But I decided to delay so I could watch them again and I realized that I've always like the 1970 a bit more as a whole, and yet I always thought of the 1983 as higher because of its faithfulness. In the end I switched the two around because I just personally liked the 1970 better for some reason. I was prepared for you to say that ha ha.

    The 2011 was brilliant. Some people have reviewed the movie and in the end said they didn't like it, but most of them always mention that despite their dislike of the film as a whole the leaving scene was beautiful. That's a strong sign.

  3. I agree that the 2011 leaving scene is the best because it is how I have always imaged it when reading the novel. They have done it right in a adaptation at last


  4. That's exactly what I thought. I felt like it completely nailed everything I was looking for in the scene.

  5. I have to say I agree with your placements and comments. The 2011 is the best for me, by far. The only downside is that it was too short, but man, did it convey a lot of emotion in that short scene.
    And, oh my gosh, did the 2006 one get on my nerves. There is a reason Jane does not succumb to Rochester's embraces!
    And after having just viewed Part 2 of the 1983 Jane Eyre I can tell you that I was definitely cringing at Dalton's over-acting. The last lines he yells out before Jane runs upstairs are "You WILL love me! You willll!" I wanted to go into a foetal position.

  6. Exactly! The 2006 just wasn't truthful at all. It just wasn't Jane at all. Dalton was a great Rochester, it's just that he had a tendency in this adaption (and especially in this scene) to go a little overboard. In a way, I'd rather have someone over-act than under-act (aka William Hurt) but when it had such stiff competition with the 1970 and the 2011, every little thing counts.

  7. I'm glad to see JE 1970 placed so high on the list, as that version has always had a special place in my heart. Though both Scott and York are too ole for the parts, it is alos true that they brought much more to the parts than actors more physically suited to them. It really come through in this scene.
    lliles, New Mexico, USA

  8. @Anonymous: The '70 is single handedly the most heartwarming JE adaptation. It consistently brings tears to my eyes. A lot of JE purists don't really like it because it makes a lot of changes to the original piece, but it's a version that you really can't help but warm up to. This scene was so characteristic of the love and passion between Jane and Rochester that I really couldn't help but rank it so high. Glad to hear from you!