Published: April 6, 2011
Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Despite the recent zombie-, sea monster-, and androidification of many classic books, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre has proven immune, perhaps because it already has something in it that goes bump in the night. Director Cary Fukunaga teases at Jane Eyre’s horror-movie potential early on in his screen adaptation of the Gothic novel. It opens with Jane (Mia Wasikowska) running from something unseen, and there are several moments before the story really gets going in which things pop out and cause the audience to shriek. These early chills, however, give way to a surprisingly soft and subtle romance.
Michael Fassbender’s Rochester, the mysterious and foreboding owner of an estate where Jane works as governess, is a far less terrible figure than the novel’s version. He is milder and, not surprisingly, more handsome than Brontë’s flawed hero. Many of the cruel games he plays with Jane in the book and much of the terror associated with his dark secret are either eased or omitted in this adaptation. And while we are hesitant to consider anything a spoiler in a film based on such a classic novel, seeing as half the movie audience gasped at the ending reveal, consider this an official spoiler alert.
Given the early spine-tingling moments, you could easily expect the discovery of Rochester’s insane attic-dwelling wife to be full-on horror. Instead, Fukunaga handles it gently. Rather than a demon, Bertha is a victim of a mental illness full of pathos, making the scene tender if anticlimactic. It would have been better for Fukunaga to leave out some of the earlier horror-movie tropes rather than open with them and fail to live up to their promise, because these early chills add little to this movie’s enchantment.
Instead, gorgeous scenery, masterful performances, and Brontë’s language make this Jane positively enthralling. Cinematographer Adriano Goldman masterfully plays with light and dark, creating a visually sumptuous backdrop for Jane’s travails. But it is Wasikowska’s performance that makes the movie. In the book, Jane is often described as otherworldly and Wasikowska impeccably combines this strange fairy grace with the flesh-and-blood determination of a character who, though endlessly trounced upon, never hangs her head low. (Wasikowska’s seemingly haunted strength was similarly used by Tim Burton in Alice in Wonderland.) Wasikowska and Fassbender’s visceral chemistry and a strong supporting cast, including Judi Dench as Rochester’s housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax, help atone for Fukunaga’s oddly uneven tone.
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