Jane Eyre–Orion’s Take
Full disclosure: I hated Jane Eyre when I read it in high school. It was the ending that frustrated me: a happy ending to a story wreathed in darkness and fear. I found it utterly unbelievable, so much so that I ended up rewriting the ending for my final project (I got an A-). My ending was depressing, but in my rather biased estimation, more realistic.
The film has all of the novel’s weaknesses, but beautifully renders its strengths on the screen. The first shot, darkness opening unto light, brought me back so viscerally into a story I had forgotten that I literally caught my breath. As the story of a cruel childhood unfolded and I remembered what I had read several years ago, I marveled at how much I had despised the novel. I was attracted to Jane Eyre’s quiet fire, the spunk and emotion of her youth, and the dignified sarcasm of her adulthood. I felt myself hoping for her happiness, for love to bloom and grace her face with a smile. To tell the truth, I was surprised at how sentimental I was being, which speaks to both the strength of the plot as penned by Charlotte Bronte and the strength of the acting. Amelia Clarkson is great as a young Jane Eyre, her strength dancing undaunted in her eyes when she declares to her stepmother that she is not a liar. Mia Wasikowska, a very young Australian actress (just 21!) is a marvel, stiff and reserved when necessary, but exploding into a sarcastic biting wit when bantering. Judie Dench, a legend, brings strength and dignity to the character of Mrs. Fairfax (where, to be fair, strength probably was hard to find). Michael Fassbender is excellent as the rather grumpy Mr. Rochester. I can gush on and on about the cast, but I think you get the point.
One of many great aspects of this film is the way in which it conveys not only the central romance of the book but also the gothic, creepiness of the story. Mr. Rochester doesn’t just brood because he’s a brooding person. There is a darkness behind him that is wonderfully captured. Jane Eyre’s own troubled past is explored in full detail. And this is all done absolutely beautifully: the film looks gorgeous. The lush greens of a rich countryside, the darkness that existed before the invention of electric lights, the gleam of rich wood, the bleakness of stone is all captured and expressed in a way that is hard for novels.
But, and there must be a but, the ending is still unsatisfying for your brain. However, I accepted it in my heart. This is a true adaptation, one that captures the soul of the novel in a way that I admire. The ending, as bad as it remains, was one that I appreciated. I needed a happy ending and hopefully so will you.