Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre

As some of you may or may not know, I was dying for Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of Jane Eyre to be released on New Zealand’s big screens already. It was advertised that it would be out on the 15th of September.

However, to my ecstatic surprise (and believe me, surprise can be ecstatic when it has anything to do with Jane Eyre) my friend and I discovered that it was actually out five days before the actual advertisement date. So after some fangirl squealing from yours truly, we quickly planned to go see it that weekend. When I say ‘we’ I actually mean ‘I’ as the other two friends are nowhere near addicted to it as I am – in actuality, and unfortunately for me, none of my friends are, but I was content in the knowledge that I could come home and rant about it on this blog.

I have been a huge lover of Jane Eyre ever since that first reading in my teenage years. I have seen several adaptations of the book – though not as many as I would have liked to see. And I don’t think I would be overstating anything if I were to say that I was utterly grateful and downright ecstatic to finally get the opportunity to see an adaptation of this beloved novel on the big screen.

The one thing that I can say, without a doubt, is that I was enthralled by the cinematography in this film. It is a visual feast for the eyes, with the rich colours, and stretching expanse of landscapes moving across the screen, not to mention the costumes and the setting itself. I don’t think Thornfield Hall has ever looked nicer in any adaptation. Thornfield in spring? Did you people see that? It all looked so fresh and green, it was almost as if I could feel the caress of the spring breeze, smell the newly formed buds, feel the prick of the green grass underfoot. It didn’t look dark and ominous, as most adaptations seem solely intent on making it appear, simply to emphasize the secret it hides. They seem to forget that Thornfield is supposed to be deceptive. Its grandeur does impress itself on Jane’s mind when she views the rooms and surroundings on her first morning there.

However, there was something about the film that didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I’m not entirely sure what it was. The acting, while wanting in some scenes, was actually very commendable for the most part of the film. Wasikowska definitely delivers on the subtlety front – her composure seems unbreakable, and yet you can see the mounting underplay of emotions. However, I did feel that she was a little lacking in regards to passion in the proposal scene. It seemed as if she was still managing to control a lot of her feelings, and though she says the right words, the tone doesn’t seem to indicate any rawness of emotions that is apparent in Jane’s dialogue in the novel. To me, Ruth Wilson’s performance in the 2006 BBC version is always foremost in my mind, whenever I think of the proposal scene. She’s like a burst dam; Rochester’s goading acts as the inevitable trigger and all her emotions and honesty just come pouring out. And perhaps while watching this film adaptation I was constantly comparing it with Wilson’s performance. However, even without that comparison it would not be difficult to notice the restraint that Wasikowska still seems to possess in that scene. I don’t mean to be harsh, but it felt as if, more than anything, Wasikowska was concentrating more on the accent than the acting itself.

Another aspect of her acting that I found to be utterly inexcusable was the in the scene in which she rouses Rochester from his burning bed. She makes a few trips to the water basin and douses the bed, and she is far too calm! She coughs a few times, and while there was urgency in her voice when attempting to wake Rochester, it vanishes when she actually tries to stop the fire. It is all the more evident when Fassbender wakes up and plays the part of a truly panicked Rochester. The contrast only emphasized (painfully, for me) the utter composure Wasikowska possessed in that scene. I honestly can’t believe that Fukunaga let it go. 

Having said that, the rest of the acting was actually quite satisfying for me. I’ve read several reviews which comment on the lack of chemistry between Fassbender and Wasikowska but I can’t really say I completely agree with that. I believe there was chemistry there – admittedly, not as much as what existed between Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson, but it was definitely there. One of my favorite interactions between Jane & Rochester in this 2011 adaptation was just before the actual proposal, when Jane is walking towards that tree with Rochester, and he says “We’ve been friends, have we not?” and gently bumps his shoulder into her when he says ‘friends’. Ahhh…*swoon*, it was too cute for words, and really displayed the affection that he had for her. Even now, when I think of it, there’s this grin plastered on across my face.
Oh, and I have to say I loved Fukunaga’s unique take on the actual sequence of the film. Instead of simply starting with Jane as a young girl, the film opens with Jane’s escape from Thornfield, and her first meeting with the Rivers family. The majority of the film is displayed through many flashbacks, triggered by the questioning of the Rivers and Jane’s own reminiscence of what has passed. 

The secondary actors, too, were impressive. Of course, nothing more can be said of Judie Dench than what has already been said. She was a very suitable Mrs. Fairfax. Adele, too, I found to be much better and more memorable than the Adeles from other adaptations – she seemed to really embody the frivolous, childish girl from the book. I’m a little uncertain as to why Jamie Bell was cast as St. John – isn’t he described as being a statue-like Adonis? (But then again, they did cast Fassbender who is infinitely too attractive to play Rochester. Although I felt a suitable job was done of ‘uglyfying’ him. That first shot of him by the fireplace, where you just see over his forehead, I thought was particularly impressive – it just brought to mind Bronte’s description of Rochester’s heavy brow.) However, I couldn’t really fault Bell’s acting, and he was also very close in appearance to Wasikowska’s age which is one of the few selling points in the novel for St. John.

However, despite all the satisfactory acting and impressive setting, upon leaving the cinema I couldn’t help but a feel a twinge of…I don’t want to say disappointment. Because it wasn’t that. But it was definitely a feeling of not having been impressed by the movie itself. I felt that Fukunaga hadn’t really brought anything new to the already numerous adaptations of Jane Eyre. Yes, he presented the story in a different manner; yes it’s a bit dark and gothic, but then so was the 2006 version. I felt that the only truly outstanding aspects were the cinematography, setting and the music. I was able to appreciate that it is a 2 hour film – a film which condensed things quite admirably and with a certain aplomb, I thought – and not everything could be covered with depth in anyway similar to the book. But there was just that something that seemed to evade me throughout the whole film. I had been utterly ecstatic when I went in, just barely able to repress my squeals, and walking out I felt slightly deflated. Not completely disappointed, mind you, but just with the feeling that I hadn’t been impressed as I thought I was going to be. 

Honourable mentions:

Acting: The scene following the revelation of Bertha Mason, when Rochester begs Jane to say. It was utterly captivating. The acting from both Wasikowska and Fassbender was perfect. The lines have been changed, shortened considerably from that of the book, but even with what little they had to work with, the two leads do a superb job of portraying the raw emotion that is evident in the novel. I am not generally a weeper, but I think if I was I would have been bawling my eyes out in this particular scene. It was excellent!

Cinematography: The scenes of Jane’s little house on the moors when she becomes a teacher after leaving Thornfield: Wow! They were amazing. I loved the little dwelling set against the backdrop of the over-arching sky – especially the scenes at night, under the snow. I wanted to be there!

Final verdict: Skimming over this, it appears as if I didn’t like the film. Which is not the case at all. I did. And when it comes out on DVD here, I’m going to run off and purchase it and won’t stop hyperventilating until it’s in my greedy little hands. More likely the hyperventilating will increase. I think it was a case of great expectations – from all the rave reviews I was expecting too much, but Fukunaga does do an impressive job – that can’t be denied. And I would have to say it is my favorite film adaptation. The Hurt & Gainsborough version cannot hold a candle, let alone a torch, to this one in my opinion. I would definitely recommend any Bronte lover, or every any lit lover for that matter, to go see the film. It is definitely worth your while.

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10 thoughts on “Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre

  1. Yes! I was so happy to have seen it too. At one point I was seriously considering seeing it on the big screen for a second time, but my small student wallet protested.

    Yeah, thought you might not, haha. I think I just went in with very high expectations (partly due to your endless rapture 😛 ). Don't get me wrong, though, I still think it's a good film. I just can't figure out exactly what it was that let it down for me.

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  2. Ha ha inwardly I blamed myself. Something told me that I might have oversold it to everyone. I can't tell you how many emails I've gotten saying “It wasn't let you led me to believe”. I did put a disclaimer, however, and pointed out that all of us might not like it the same.

    I'm not going to lie (and you may find this hard to believe), but when I first walked out of the movie theater after seeing it for the first time I actually felt the same exact way. My parents asked me what I thought and I paused and said “I don't really know what I think just yet”, and in some ways I felt like it wasn't exactly what I had expected. But after I saw it the second time I really got to relax and focus on the beauty of the movie itself rather than just breaking my neck saying “this is wrong and that is wrong”. I don't think I ever sat back in my seat during my first viewing because I was so busy trying to soak every detail in. It was only the second trip that allowed me to feel what Fukunaga was really going for, and thus led me to love the movie so much.

    I'm not saying this to influence your decision, though! I just understand exactly where you're coming from.

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  3. You're right, everyone does have different tastes.

    Yes! I couldn't quite figure out how I felt about it either, and I probably do need to see it again so that I can sit back and just soak in all the goodness of the film. One viewing was totally insufficient, I was trying to take everything in all at once, and I still feel I wasn't able to do that.

    Thank you for your comment 🙂

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  4. It's always interesting to hear/read what other people think about these things. I loved this adaptation; I've watched parts of others, and I watched almost the full BBC version with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens; I'm probably one of the only Jane Eyre fans that disliked about 99% of that version lol. I think what I loved about Fukunaga's version was that he didn't succumb to melodrama. I felt that Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens were too melodramatic a lot of the time, and maybe it's just the way that I read the characters. But I know that a lot of people felt that Wasikowska underacted a lot of the time, which may be true. I wish we could see some of the other takes for some of those keys scenes, like the proposal — it would be interesting to see what Fukunaga decided wasn't suitable!

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  5. Hmm, you do have a point there – they are a tad melodramatic, but the novel itself seems to be a bit more on the dramatic side.
    Wasikowska does seem to underplay a lot of the emotions. Seems to work most of the time as Jane herself isn't overly demonstrative of her feelings, but there were times when it seemed she could have given a bit more (As in the fire scene). However, I did like Fukunaga's – I think, as an adaptation, it works. Thanks for your comment =)

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  6. Well, I'm glad to have been of assistance, Victoria. I hope you get a chance to see the film soon – it's a must see.

    (Haha, I guess I'll have to take your word for it then 😉 I do love Jane Eyre, so I guess that triggers some of the gushing.)

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  7. I haven't seen this version of Jane Eyre, it definitely looks a bit on the dramatic side. I liked the 1995 version.

    Now that I have read your review, I think I will watch this movie.

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  8. Yeah, it is dramatic but the novel itself is dramatic, too, you have to admit 😉

    By 1995 version you mean the one with Hurt and Gainsborough right? I've seen it, but it's not one of my favorites. Have you seen the 2006 version with Stephens & Wilson? The script is a little too modernized but it really captures the passion that's in the novel – it's one of my favorite adaptations!

    I'm sure you'll enjoy it and I look forward to reading your review of it 🙂

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