30 March 2011
  review: jane eyre

jane eyre is an ambitious book to adapt to the screen, so it's interesting to note that, according to imdb, it has been adapted no less than 20 times. the book itself is something like 600 pages long and is broken down into five or six large sections demarcated by the title character's travels in life. because of that, bronte's book lends itself particularly well to a miniseries, a collection of films or even a four or five hour gone-with-the-wind-esque epic work. however, it is clearly a difficult task to cram all of the events and characters from such an ambitious literary work into a simple, sleek two hour drama.

watching the latest jane eyre adaption, i imagine that director cary fukunaga and especially screenwriter moira buffini are tremendous admirers of the victorian novel. this is especially evident in the attention that was paid to not excising any major character, setting or storyline from the novel in this film. however, it seems to me that maybe this could have been a better film if it had been written and directed by people who weren't too attached to the source material.

the bulk of the problems i had with jane eyre appear immediately as the film begins and are most evident throughout the first third of the two hour run time. for some reason fukunaga chose to begin the film somewhere in the middle of the novel's storyline as jane arrives at the home of the rivers family. then it jumps back and forth between this scene, jane's pained childhood at home with her aunt and her time at lowood school. in the novel, these represent the first three major sections of text, representing the first three stops on jane's journeys, and this is maybe a quarter to a third of the novel. however, in the film, fukunaga crams these events into maybe 15 or 20 minutes. this entire section of the film is overly complicated, confusing (perhaps especially to viewers who read the book and trying to follow it on screen), and strangely evocative of a "last week on jane eyre. . ." tv series intro.

after jane arrives at thornfield and her storyline with mr. rochester begins, the film immediately straightens itself out and morphs into a more linear, easily discernible narrative. after the film arrives at this point, i could follow what was going on and began to really enjoy what the director was putting out. michael fassbender absolutely embodied mr. rochester, and i couldn't imagine anyone performing the role better than him. and i quite liked mia wasikowska as the tortured, melancholic and overly pale victorian heroine. all in all this was a movie with a lot of good qualities and one that i enjoyed despite its numerous flaws.

still, i would argue that this could have been a much better movie if the filmmakers had been willing to take a chance and tinker with the source material a little bit. given how much better the movie got once jane arrived at thornfield, why couldn't fukunaga just cut the earlier material out and make the entire film revolve solely around the relationship between jane and mr. rochester? this would have yielded a much better, much less cluttered narrative. yeah, maybe some hardcore bronte-philes would have been irritated by the revision, but at least the film would have been able to mark itself off as unique from the twenty earlier adaptations of the book (and the three or four others that are bound to be made in the next decade).
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