Saturday, April 21, 2012

Jane Eyre 2011 Anniversary Review

Preamble...A very long preamble. 
I know I promised this weeks ago, but I never got around to writing this review because last-minute schedule changes left me with absolutely no time on my hands. I didn't forget, though, and now with the third quarter behind me and the ability to utter a large sigh of relief, I feel much better equipped to write a thorough review.

Perhaps it seems borderline insane to write two reviews on the exact same movie, but I'm determined to make it a tradition on this blog because Jane Eyre 2011 was essentially the catalyst of a major life change for me. (Yes, I know it sounds melodramatic.) A year ago, my family took the trip to Charlotte, North Carolina to celebrate my grandfather's birthday. After doing some cinema research, I was able to ascertain that the (then) new version of Jane Eyre would be premiering at a local art house theatre the very night we came into town, and I desperately begged my parents to let me see it. They sacrificed crashing in their beds after four hours of travel to watch it with me, and for two hours I was mesmerized by Cary Fukunaga's adaptation of Jane Eyre. During the car ride home, I was silent for almost ten minutes straight before an effusive flow of words began gushing out of my mouth.

"It was amazing!"


"The look he gave her!"

"'Awaken then!'"

After countless exclamations, I paused, expecting some kind of profound remark from one of my parents. All I got was, "I'm glad you liked it." And from my mother: "I liked the other one better. But that beard was hideous."

I had to face it then that my parents would never quite understand the depth of what I saw in Jane Eyre; would never fully be able to comprehend the way reading a piece of English literature was such an indescribable thrill to me; would never be able to hold enthusiastic discourse about the different facets of Rochester and the true significance of St. John.

No one really shared my passion for the novel, or for English literature at all. Yet, I felt the urge to tell someone or find some place where I satisfy my enthusiasm, so I came to Blogger. One of my first posts was a review of the movie, and it set an enriching and cathartic journey in motion that began with only two followers and thirty seven views and has now grown to thirty followers and 2,000 views a month. So by reviewing the film again, I'm not trying to be obsessive (even though that does have a minor hand in it), but rather I'm attempting to show my gratitude for the film, the experience, and to you guys.

Jane: I've revisited this movie several times since that day I wrote that first review, and each time I watch it I'm progressively more convinced of Mia Wasikowska's suitability for the role. I was in love with her then, and left completely awestruck by her ability to infuse outward subtlety into a character so rich with emotion and yet still be able to portray the burning fires beneath the skin. To this day, critics continue to call Mia's performance wooden, but there are just as many who recognize the skill she displays and many were disappointed by her Oscar snubbing. When walking into the theatre last year, I was afraid that I might not be able to see Mia as Jane. Her previous roles in Alice in Wonderland and The Kids are All Right struck me with the fear that I would be scarred by my prior knowledge of her. I was proved wrong, though, and quickly discovered that Mia inhabited the role of Jane Eyre. She becomes the character, and it resonates through every flicker of the eye, gesture of the hand, and movement of her body. Her age makes the casting accurate; her maturity makes it true to the character, and her overall respect for the sanctity of the novel and its protagonist (voiced numerous times in her interviews) adds something that an average actress would not have been able to capture. Jane Eyre really becomes relatable, and even though her performance is remarkable because of its sublime undercurrents, the audience can feel every fluctuation of her emotions.

Rochester: I hadn't been previously acquainted with Michael Fassbender before the announcement that he was slated to play Rochester, so I plunged into weeks of copious research, watching other films he had appeared in and listening to the interviews he gave about his approach to the character. At first, I was ambivalent about the decision to cast someone so attractive in the role, but after seeing the movie I realized why Cary Fukunaga selected him. Fassbender is morphed into a slightly unattractive Rochester, but as the film progresses he becomes more handsome, as if the audience is witnessing his transformation the same way Jane is. Fassbender encompasses many of Rochester's facets: the changeableness, the outright rudeness, the aggression but also the tenderness, the passion, and the flirtatious charm. I'm not saying that he's perfect, however. Fassbender takes Rochester's polar extremes and incorporates each into his performance with moderation. He's not as aggressive, rude, and changeable as the "real" Rochester. Somehow, I preferred this approach to those of previous actors, though. The actors before him tended to focus themselves on one aspect of the character. Orson Welles was the commanding Rochester, George C. Scott was the fatherly Rochester. Michael Jayston was the eccentric one, Tim Dalton was aggressive, and Toby Stephens was sensual. Fassbender didnt execute each of these to the extent the others did, but he balanced them all better than the previous men.

St. John: Even though I loved the way Jamie Bell actually made St. John seem human rather than just an icy clergyman who does nothing to rival Rochester, outwardly, he didn't fit the "Grecian profile" image I might have imagined. Appearances aside, I enjoyed him. Jane once described St. John as not necessarily heartless, but too intent on burying his emotions. I could detect the manifestation of that description in areas of Jamie's performance. In a scene of particularly intimate conversation, he speaks briefly about having fallen in love. His voice becomes soft, his countenance a bit vulnerable. But he turns it off quickly, and follows with the words, "I scorned this weakness. I fought hard against it and I won." My regret is not seeing Jamie enough. St. John's part didn't have much time to develop.

Others: Dame Judi nails Mrs. Fairfax in an underrated performance that got absolutely no attention. But then again, a stellar performance is almost expected from Judi Dench at this point in her spectacular career. Sally Hawkins was lovely (well, as lovely as Miss Reed can be) in the short time she graced the screen. Little Adele was so cute! The Rivers sisters couldn't be more perfectly cast. The only qualm I have is regarding Imogen Poots as Blanche Ingram. Her appearances fit the part without a doubt; she's absolutely stunning. There was still something lacking, however, and it might simply be because the audience didn't see nearly enough of her to recognize her as a real rival for Rochester's affections.

Screenplay/ Cinematography/Soundtrack/Costumes: 
Screenplay: Moira Buffini did not disappoint me. There were some obvious deviations from the book (as is common in every adaptation) but what I appreciated most was how Moira made sure to preserve the dialogue, unlike the 2006. There were a few people with gripes about how she chopped out the gypsy scene and condensed the leaving scene, but if you look at the numerous other adaptations of the novel, you'll realize that none of them really ever incorporated those scenes except for the 4 hour BBC productions. There's also a lot in Moira's script that didn't make it into the final production of the movie because of time constraints. (The movie already pushes two hours as is). For anyone interested in really seeing the genius of Buffini's script, you can purchase the movie tie-in version on kindle or kindle software here. The screenplay is located at the end of the novel. Buffini succeeded in preserving the aspects of the source material that most fans love, but she also added some original ideas that I would have loved to see come to fruition on the screen. What didn't wasn't her fault.

Cinematography: Absolutely breathtaking. This adaptation truly makes cinematography an art that requires adherence to the source material as well. The atmosphere created by the lighting and camera work is realistic and truly visceral. Cary Fukunaga said in multiple interviews that most of the time throughout the movie, no artificial light was used. The cinematographers worked with the shadows and darkness by filming by the light of the fire and candelabras on set. In a film with no voiceovers to give the viewer a clear insight into Jane's thoughts, the filmmakers used her environment as an external manifestation of her feelings. Outdoors, the landscaping is filmed with an artistic but realistic hand that emphasizes Jane's isolation. There is no romantic sweeping camera like that in Pride in Prejudice, but the film work is just as breathtakingly beautiful.

Soundtrack: What can I say? Dario Marianelli is a genius. I bought the entire soundtrack and still listen to it on a regular basis. It's one of my favorites from him. The key to providing music for this film was to mirror Jane's thoughts without overpowering or romanticizing the world she lives in. Marianelli was the perfect person to bring in for the job. You can give all the tracks a listen on Youtube. My favorites were "Awaken", "In Jest or Earnest", and "The Wedding Dress."

Costumes: Nominated for an Academy Award, so obviously they must be good. But one must really take the time to notice the detail to appreciate the artistry.

The one thing that takes away from the film is the swiftness with which it progresses. Grant it, two hours is not a lot to work with when you're condensing a five hundred-page novel. I would have liked to see more time spent on the brutality of Jane's childhood and a little more emphasis placed on her visit back to Gateshead. Two scenes were left out (of the movie, not the script) that were really instrumental in the pacing of Jane and Rochester's relationship. The first was that garden scene in which Rochester gives us some insight into his past with Adele's mother (it's included in the deleted scenes of the DVD). The second was the tearing of the veil, which was also thrown into the deleted scenes package. These clips are both on Youtube as well.

Despite these quirks, this adaptation continues to be my favorite because of how balanced it was. Every aspect of the film worked together in perfect unison. The characters each had perfect chemistry and did great jobs with their parts. The cinematography added an extra aspect to the movie that echoed their performances. The costumes and soundtrack fit flawlessly into the story. Which Jane Eyre adaptation a person likes will always variate based on the personality of the individual, of course. Before I came across this movie, I had submitted to calling the BBC 1983 and 2006 my favorites; the 1983 because of its adherence to the source material, the 2006 because of the chemistry between characters. But when this version came out, I realized what I had always wanted in a Jane Eyre adaptation that none of the others ever had--artistry. This was an adaptation where just as much effort was put into being true to the book's description of Jane's surroundings and the tones in her environment as it was into the dialogue and the characters. That's really important, because so great a portion of the novel is dedicated to these details. Fukunaga, Buffini, Goldman, and Marianelli took Jane Eyre and made it a visual piece of art, and I as an intense fan of the novel I appreciated that tremendously. You can say what you want about the actors or the infidelities of the screenplay, but no one can question the visceral quality of the music and the cinematography and its connection to the original story. Whenever I watch this movie again, I always rediscover why I loved it so much since that first night I saw it a year ago.


  1. Yay, Ari's back! :D
    GREAT review - you did the Jane Eyre 2011 anniversary justice.
    You totally voiced my thoughts on Fukunaga's portrayal of Rochester - how he's almost ugly at first but seems to progress towards more attractive throughout the film (that first high angle shot of his forehead is especially effective).
    Wonderful review - can see you put a lot of thought into this.

  2. My mother likes JE, but is definitely not fascinated by it as we are.

    Lovely review one again! I don't agree with you on Timothy Dalton though. I watched JE83 again on Friday evening and for me his approach to EFR is still the most multifaceted of all, definitely not just agressive. Michael F is one of my runners up though.

    JE11 is definitely my favourite film version. I'm still waiting for a director's cut...

  3. @Lady: I know it's been such a long time. I've been sooooooo busy with school I haven't even had time to breathe and whenever I do get home I'm so exhausted that I don't even feel like reading or writing another thing.

    Thank you so much :) I did want to go into a little detail with this review. You're right...that shot of Michael leaning towards the camera really uglies him up and then the angles change as the movie unfolds.

    @Robas: I think everyone clings to a particular adaptation based on what they see in the novel and which version they saw first. Even though the '06 was the first I saw, the '11 came at the time I was really developing a relationship with the novel, so perhaps it stuck with me a little more.

    Timothy Dalton was a great Rochester, I didn't mean in anyway to insult the other actors who played him because they were all great actors. If I had to choose the two who did the best job at portraying all of his aspects, I would, like you, narrow it down to Dalton and Fassbender. I think I'm a little more drawn to Fassbender's portrayal just because it seems more natural in a way.

    I hope they'll get around to making the director's cut one day. I wish there had been more deleted scenes included in the DVD too.

  4. You absolutely nailed it with this review. :)

  5. Great review! This was one of the first literary adaptations I saw (I know, a little late coming) but now I can't get enough. My IMDb searches are full of Austen, Bronte and Thomas Hardy, and the film encouraged me to re-read JE; certainly one of the best, if not the greatest 19th century feminist works. Can't wait to see some earlier adaptations, but sadly like you my parents do not care. After watching this with my mother asked me to explain the plot! You only missed one character though, the gorgeously spectacular Harry Lloyd who played Richard Mason. Although getting little screen time to show off his acting chops, please watch him in the 2011 BBC Great Expectations (a wonderfully bumbling and romantic Herbert Pocket)or as young Dennis Thatcher in The Iron Lady. But, as always, a fantastic review, great attention to detail!

  6. Thank you very much. You're almost reading my mind somewhat because I was just reminding myself that I need to delve into the 2011 GE miniseries. I'm horribly late on it for some reason (namely the fact that the book was spoon-fed to me a few years ago so I don't like it as much as I love other pieces). The earlier adaptations are great as far as content, but none of them will equal this when it comes to the artistry and small things such as camerawork, vividness, and costume design. This was the first big budget Jane Eyre adaptation. If you need a little guide book I did various posts comparing the different adaptions. I'd love for you to take a look. :)

  7. You've convinced me to give this adaptation another chance. As you may have read on my blog (was it JE that brought you to it?), I didn't like it nearly as well as the Dalton version. But your loving discussion here makes me realize I may have dismissed it too quickly.

    Weirdly, considering that JE is my favorite book, and has been on my list of faves since I was your age, I've only seen those two versions. I must remedy that.

    1. Ha ha yes, Jane Eyre tends to bring me everywhere because I follow the Bronteblog closely.

      I find that many of the 1983 fans tend not to like this version as well. I think it's probably because that particular adaptation has two major holds on its fans: the loyalty to the novel, and Timothy Dalton as Rochester. Arguably, Dalton did kind of define the role of Rochester so it's hard to see Michael Fassbender (who seems from a completely different stock) stepping in to play the same role.

      I definitely encourage you to look at some of the other adaptions. Some of them end up being sleepers that people begin to love when they find them. I've done various comparisons of them in different posts. If it strikes your fancy, I'd love for you to read them. They should be located under the "Adaptions" tab at the top of the blog. I wrote posts comparing the proposal scene, the leaving scene, and the reunion scene.

    2. Probably one of the reasons that lovers of the Dalton version don't care for the Fassbender version is because of the way those particular people view Rochester. Everyone has their own personal take on the characters, obviously, and I'm betting one version just fits better with their own reading.

      I really do want to see more versions -- I love Orson Welles' voice, so I want to see his one of these days. And I'll read through your comparisons soon too!

  8. I have rewatched JE 2011 online and I appreciate the film a bit more then I did last year. It is 2nd on my JE adaptations list.