(pictured above: Mia Wasikowska as the title heroine in Cary Fukanaga’s “Jane Eyre”.)
Being the film fanatic and all-around arts obsessive that I am, I’ve never considered myself quite as educated on classical literature as I should be. I read voraciously, don’t get me wrong, but you’re far more likely to catch me reading an Eggers or a Wallace than an Austen or a Joyce.
I only consider this little aside worth sharing because I’m reviewing “Jane Eyre”. Considered a member of the essential British literary canon (the existence of which is a little sad but a little easier to know what to read), it’s one of the monolithic terrors that I’ve been long aware of yet always eluded it. Put bluntly, the prose in which it’s written scares me off. Terribly. So hearing of this cinematic adaptation, I was excited to see this legendary story told in a language I consider myself fluent in: Cinema.
“Jane Eyre” is the story of a woman (I’m sure you can deduce her name) who falls in love with an elusive landlord by the name of Mr. Rochester in a secluded 18th-century British manor. This is intercut with flashbacks to Eyre’s childhood, in which a resilient spirit was forged in her, when she was continuously abused by authority figures. Thus, “Jane Eyre” is both a story of a girl finding fulfillment in another person, and discovering a strength in herself she never knew she had.
Directed by second-time-filmmaker Cary Fukanaga, “Jane Eyre” filmed with an eye that adapts depending on what mood it’s trying to convey. It’s quite a change of pace considering Fukanaga’s first work, the superb Spanish-language crime drama, “Sin Nombre”. But they’re directed very similarly, with mostly naturalistic lighting and slow paces. Basically, Fukanaga adapts the source material with his own distinctive style, which goes a long way towards making it involving and relevant.
Mia Wasikowska, in her second role as an iconic literary character in as many years (the first being the creative black-hole “Alice in Wonderland”, brings depth, character and soul to Jane Eyre. That said, it’s one of my favorite actors who completely floored me here: Michael Fassbender, of “Hunger” and “Inglourious Basterds”, who as Mr. Rochester delivers what may be one of his best performances. He brings an eerieness to the character at the outset, but just as Jane finds a very real, human center to him, Fassbender finds it for his character.
The film is surrounded by gorgeous sets and Oscar-worthy costumes, but I’m pretty sure you expected that already (Why the confusion? It’s a prestige period drama from Britain!). If there’s an issue with the film, it’s that the inter-cutting between Eyre’s past and present feels more than a little clunky, and off-beat at times. Luckily, that’s only for about the first third of the film, and it settles into a nice, natural pace after a while.
I’m not sure whether being able to assess “Jane Eyre” independent of pre-conceived notions was for better or for worse — I was compelled and surprised by the material, but how can I know if it was done justice? Either way, “Jane Eyre” is a film one can lose themselves in; emerging more than a little shaken but more than a little dazzled. B+