Jane Eyre: British classic, American director?

Michael Fassbender & Mia Wasikowski as Mr. Rochester & Jane Eyre

I spent about a month waiting anxiously for Jane Eyre to become available for RedBox rental, because it is one of my favorite novels. The day I got the email saying it was available, I sped over to the nearest Walgreen’s and rented it. I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical of an American director’s take on a British classic, but I was pleasantly surprised!

Cary Fukunaga did a brilliant job of laying out the complexity of the story and its characters. He takes you to the moors of Britain in a run-down manor full of dark hallways on the inside but beautiful gardens on the outside, analogous to the characters and their storylines.

Jane Eyre is an orphan left under her aunt’s care. She casts her away to boarding school where the young girls are abused emotionally and physically. Jane knows no love or affection until she finds a job as a governess at Thornfield Hall. There she meets Mr. Rochester, a dark, brooding man with a sharp tongue. Eventually they fall in love, but she leaves him when she finds out the horrible secret he is keeping in the attic. His wife is a violent lunatic, something that was kept hidden from him when his father arranged their marriage for connection and wealth. Her illness and violence haunts Rochester, until he meets Jane who awakens him.

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane is a strong female character, something Bronte was known for writing in her novels. Mia Wasikowska does an excellent job as the poor, plain Jane winning over the brash Mr. Rochester. I usually get upset in movies where the lead character is supposed to be plain-looking and they pick some gorgeous actress with no depth. Wasikowska dressed in the drab and dreary dresses Jane wears as a governess, with no make-up and a pale complexion makes you really see what Rochester falls in love with: the beauty and strength on the inside as opposed to the beauty on the outside.
Rochester: Who would you offend by living with me? Who would care?
Jane Eyre: I would.
Rochester: You would rather drive me to madness than break some mere human law.
Jane Eyre: I must respect myself.
Rochester: Listen to me. Listen. I could bend you with my finger and my thumb. A mere reed you feel in my hands. But whatever I do with this cage, I cannot get at you, and it is your soul that I want. Why can’t you come of your own free will?
Jane Eyre: God help me.
Wasikowska plays Jane vulnerable with a hard exterior, just how I imagined Jane Eyre as I read the book.

Michael Fassbender as Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester was exactly what I wanted from the character. A sucker for rude, tactless men with a soft spot for the women they love, I swoon for Mr. Rochester every time I read Jane Eyre. Fassbender portrays a Rhett Butler-esque Mr. Rochester, a role he took to impress his mother and sister who are big fans of the book and its leading man. I couldn’t have sighed more when he tells Jane, “Sometimes I have the strangest feeling about you. Especially when you are near me as you are now. It feels as though I had a string tied here under my left rib where my heart is, tightly knotted to you in a similar fashion. And when you go, I am afraid that this cord will be snapped, and I shall bleed inwardly.” It is safe to say that Michael Fassbender is my new obsession so I may be a little bit biased, but his portrayal of the onion-like Mr. Rochester is definitely up there on my “Dream Men List” with Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler in the 1939 classic, Gone with the Wind. 

Jamie Bell as St. John was absolutely repulsive, exactly what St. John is in the novel. His heartless proposal and idea of loveless marriage make you realize why Jane runs away right then and there. Although Rochester lies to Jane about already having a wife, the circumstance he’s in makes you sympathize with him and want Jane to run from St. John to him.

The only problem I have with this movie, like the 2008 Pride & Prejudice or 2009 Brideshead Revisited, is that there is so much of the book missing in the movie. The BBC mini-series version of Pride & Prejudice with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and the PBS mini-series version of Brideshead Revisited with Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder cover every area and aspect of the novels. They are two of my favorite mini-series productions and make the recent film versions seem completely unacceptable. Perhaps watching this version of Jane Eyre before watching the mini-series production is the reason I love it so much. I was disappointed with the abrupt ending in Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre, because it leaves out the whole end of the book when they are reunited at Thornfield. I feel like Fukunaga could have made that ending beautiful, but I suppose his choice in ending was a good choice for those watching the film who had never read the book.

That’s another thing I feel that draws me to the movie anyway. The beautiful language in the book is spoken so well in this version. Wasikowska’s conviction when Fassbender as Rochester begs her to stay and Fassbender’s vulnerability and passion in his proposal are so incredibly romantic.

“I offer you my hand and my heart, Jane, I ask you to pass through life at my side. You are my equal and my likeness. Will you marry me?” Seriously? With that, I rest my case. What girl could say no?

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