I watched the 2011 film version of Jane Eyre and instantaneously documented my unvarnished initial thoughts and reactions. I’ve never read the original book, nor know anything about the story, so it’s entirely fresh to me.
“What is hell?” the headmaster asks Jane. A pit of fire, she replies. But she really knew, as others have discovered, that hell is other people.
The schoolmarm pauses her whipping of another girl in class as the headmaster enters. “It is your mission to render her contrite and self-denying,” he says. “Continue.” Woo boy, this is gonna get ugly.
Jane drops her slate to save her friend from a beating, which lands her atop the Chair of Infamy in the middle of the schoolroom. She is to remain without food or water all day and night to learn, the schoolmaster intones, “how barren is the life of a sinner.” And yet, why do I suspect Jane will learn the opposite: that how barren is the life of a sinner unloved. “Exclude her,” the schoolmaster tells the other pupils. “Shut her out. Deny your love to Jane Eyre, the liar.” She stands atop the punitive pedestal, bathed in light. Does the Almighty bless her in her suffering? Or is it the final gasp of sun before darkness settles around her?
Her father used to preach that life was too short to dwell in animosity. It’s a lesson Jane struggles with. “There’s an invisible world all around you,” her friend Helen says. “Spirits commissioned to guard you, Jane. Do you not see them?”
I see spirit within her, but also great incorrigibility. “You have a passion for living,” Helen says on her deathbed. “Don’t leave me,” Helen implores. But Helen expires, leaving Jane to be cast off by her pill of an aunt.
She’s sent away to another estate, to another lonely, austere room. “I’m not afraid of solitude. This is my first home where I’m neither dependent nor subordinate to anyone.” It is a small and plain place, the clergyman Mr. St. John tells her. “Then it shall suit me very well,” she says.
The production design is wonderful, and the cinematography, like Jane herself, is plain but strong, weathered.
Ah yes, Judi Dench, the PB&J of British period pieces: usually the same every time, but there’s a reason so many people love it.
Jane has taken over the tutoring of the child at Thornfield. I’ve heard that it’s common for the best teachers to have struggled as students. Because they knew what it was like to struggle and receive help from attentive teachers, they in turn have the most patience with the trouble children they teach. Jane certainly had a rough go in her schooling, so her kindness with her students seems apropos.
Ohhhh yeahhhh… Michael Fassbender has arrived. All is right with the world.
Is this a meet-cute? The pratfall off the horse certainly would be fitting.
“To paint is one of the keenest pleasures I have ever known.” Rochester is grilling her, holding up her paintings as “peculiar.” Don’t think Jane would disagree, but it’s not as if she needs another disagreeable adult glumly telling her that.
Rochester, firing his musket just for kicks apparently, has the archetypal angst and mercurial moods of a bored rich kid with nothing to do.
Half the scenes in period pieces happen in front of a fire, which is of course cinematically alluring but also makes me wish I had a fireplace.
“Your gaze is very direct, Miss Eyre. Do you find me handsome?” he asks pointedly. He answers his own question: “You’re no more pretty than I am handsome.” Smooth moves, Rochester. He wishes to draw her out, beckoning her to speak. “I don’t wish to treat you inferior,” he says a bit penitently. “Yet you command me to speak?” Jane replies. BOOMROASTED. But this intrigues Rochester instead of angering him. “I envy you, your openness, your unpolluted mind.”
Mia Wasikowska is holding her own against Fassbender. I dug her a lot in The Kids Are All Right, though not much in Alice In Wonderland (which was more Tim Burton’s fault I think). She has a relatively flat demeanor, which has played well for Jane thus far. She and Rochester are two wounded people, or “restless captives” in his words.
There’s a fire in Rochester’s room. He gives her his coat… yeah, he wants her. But when their icy exteriors melt? Maybe with that literal/metaphorical fire she saved him from … And now he’s just watching her as she slept, and takes her hand. Whoa… totally turns him down. She had more willpower than I would have had.
Uh-oh, more young ladies in the house, and much more fashionable ones at that. Jane Eyre Plain And Tall can’t compete with them—or can she? … Yep, she can, because Rochester chases after her when she leaves, even though he’s betrothed to Lady Blanche Ingram.
Rochester: “You’ve transfixed me quite.” And yet he’s talking to her about another woman, which women love of course. Pick a side, bro.
Jane visits her dying aunt, who shows her a letter from Jane’s uncle asking Jane to live with him. Too bad the letter was from three years ago and her aunt had told him Jane was dead. Classic. Man, she really is cursed. Jane, nobly, forgives her and plans to leave Thornfield, but Rochester begins a charm offensive to keep her. She wants to leave because he’s engaged, but he doesn’t get it, or doesn’t want to. Why should she stay “and become nothing to you? Am I a machine without feelings?” Wasikowska is killing it here, letting the emotion seeping out despite Jane’s reserved nature.
Rochester proposes to her, but Jane isn’t buying it—what about the woman you’re engaged to? “Ms. Ingram is the machine without feelings. You rare, unearthly thing, please accept me as your husband.”
“You love me?” she asks. Wow. This is the first time she’s even considered the possibility that someone could love her. The sun beams, the wind blows, then the rain pours, finally a release for Jane. Beautiful.
Judi Dench catches them canoodling: Careful, she tells Jane. No matter: she revels in the color of the day, newly seen like after a fog.
The music is perfectly light, sneaking into interludes with just the right touch. Done by Dario Marianelli, who also did the music for Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and Anna Karenina. Clearly has a type.
Oh dang, shotgun wedding. But they didn’t pull the trigger in time: turns out Rochester was already married 15 years ago.
Whhaaaaaaaaaa… Dude has his first wife locked up in a cellar? WTF! “My own demon,” he calls her. I should say so—that along with a few others. He married her for money but then she went mad, so of course he did what anyone would do… Jane’s pissed, obviously. And closed up again. “Be my wife,” he asks again. Uhhhh… RED FLAG, JANE. He tells his sob story of why he locked up his wife. “Pity you, sir,” she says sarcastically. “I must respect myself.” Attagirl.
She flees Thornfield at night and reconnects with Mr. St. John, who gets her a job at a school. She’s like an abused spouse fleeing her home, trying to start anew. Yet she still dreams of making out with Rochester (and who wouldn’t?).
CASH MONEY. St. John tells Jane her uncle died and she inherits his fortune. “You look desperately miserable about it,” he says. She tries to give the money to him and his sisters: “I have been alone always.” Dang, Jane, cash that check! I kid. It’s an incredibly selfless act, but Jane seems constitutionally incapable of doing something good for herself.
Oh man, now St. John is proposing. “In you, I recognize a fellow soul,” he says. Seems like a good dude. But will she go with the roguish bad boy or the stable, sensitive good one? “I love you as a brother,” she says, “but as a husband, no.” She says her heart is mute. “Then I must speak for it.” Here comes the mansplaining… “We shall marry,” he says, “and undoubtedly enough of love will follow.” “To marry you would kill me!” she fires back. Ouch. FRIENDZONE ALERT.
And now he gets it: She’s still wants Rochester. Indeed, she runs back to Thornfield, only to find it nearly burned to the ground. The locked-in wife torched it then killed herself. She finds Rochester, bearded and blind from the fire. They hold hands, because of course they do. Happily ever after… (?) Stay away from cellars, Jane.