DVD of the Week – Review of Jane Eyre (2011)

by NIR SHALEV

Jane Eyre is the classic, Gothic tale of an orphan that was born in misfortune. Jane (Mia Wasikowska) grew up with a family that detested her and was eventually sent to a boarding school where she finally made a friend. But the school was hell, the children were beaten, and her best friend died of illness. This was before Jane was even a teenager.

Fast forward to when Jane is old enough to leave the school but instead of traveling back home to her hateful, adoptive family, she takes up a job as a governess at Thornfield Hall, the humongous semi-castle whose master is Edward Fairfax Rochester (Michael Fassbender). She tends to his ward while having to put up with Rochester, who can be quite changeable and quite frequently. There is a love story that wants to develop between Jane and Rochester but here is a Gothic tale of misfortune and so, without spoiling anything (for anyone who hadn’t yet read the book or watched any of the various film and TV adaptations), a loving relationship probably can’t happen. That’s because the Gothic aspect of the story doesn’t come from Jane’s time at the boarding school but rather from when she lives in Thornfield and has to put up with a possible ghost waltzing the grounds at night.

But enough about the story, you can read Helen’s review for finer details. I want to talk about the presentation of the film rather than the adaptation, because I still haven’t read the Brontë novel (don’t mock me). Director Cary Fukunaga’s previous film, Sin Nombre is an excellent and powerful film that’s about a couple of South Americans who are escaping a violent past. It’s a violent film but an excellent one and seeing that his follow up project is a costumed period piece adaptation of Jane Eyre leads me to believe that he’s either quite talented or mad to think that he could pull it off.

Well, he pulled it off and rather remarkably. Jane Eyre is shot on location in various places in Europe and the film style that Fukunaga chooses to employ is “realism.” He utilizes natural lighting wherever he can and whenever it looks good, or is appropriate. If not, it’s an arduous set up that takes hours; usually with films of this caliber it take longer to set up the shots than it does to actually shoot them. The shots showcasing scenery look like digital paintings, providing the audience with the feeling of actually being there with the characters. I don’t know how Fukunaga did it but I never felt like I was staring at actors who were wearing costumes, I felt like I was transported back in time over a hundred years and had a glimpse of what life was like back then, provided that this is truly an accurate depiction of the period.

And one can mostly tell these things by studying period paintings, which is why at times the film paints its shots to simulate paintings of the period. Watching this film I was reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant adaptation of Barry Lyndon (1975) and Terence Malick’s gorgeous Days of Heaven (1978). Those films are definitely unorthodox in their ways of telling stories and in their visual presentations; Kubrick especially utilized a technique where every shot in Lyndon looked like a moving painting.

Watching this adaptation of Jane Eyre I felt frightened during the night scenes in Thornfield because Fukunaga didn’t go just for Gothic, he went for straight up horror film. When Jane would walk down the forest at night, I felt like there were monsters just around, waiting to pounce on her. Well, maybe that was just a well placed metaphor for Rochester.

The performances in this film by Wasikowska and Fassbender are terrific. Chemistry is definitely present and Fassbender who seemingly plays in every film to come out this year is an excellent choice for Rochester. They wear the costumes well, talk the talk, and walk the walk entirely with conviction. There’s also a nice performance by the ever-wonderful Dame Judy Dench.

This is an excellent film that I can only compare to the Orson Welles version from 1943, the only other film adaptation of the novel that I’d watched. While the Welles version was shot in gorgeous black and white and utilized the aesthetics of what made German Expressionism creepy and glorious, this is still a far more moody and atmospheric version. And that’s why this film is a big recommendation from me. I regret not having watched it in the theaters and implore my readers to watch this film adaptation on as big a screen as they can find. It’s truly worth it.

The DVD and Blu-ray editions both come with A LOOK INSIDE JANE EYRE: A behind-the-scenes look into the filming of Jane Eyre, featuring interviews with lead actress Mia Wasikowska and director Cary Fukunaga; TO SCORE JANE EYRE- CARY FUKUNAGA AND DARIO MARIANELLI TEAM UP: Director Cary Fukunaga tells of collaborating with Academy Award-winning composer Dario Marianelli on the musical soul of Jane Eyre; THE MYSTERIOUS LIGHT OF JANE EYRE: A look at how the team of director Cary Fukunaga and cinematographer Adriano Goldman and their crew applied lighting techniques to help set a Gothic tone; DELETED SCENES; and FEATURE COMMENTARY WITH DIRECTOR CARY FUKUNAGA.

New releases this week: In a Better World, Madea’s Big Happy Family, Prom

6 responses to “DVD of the Week – Review of Jane Eyre (2011)

  1. I thought you’d like it. :D I now need to see the Welles version. There’s also a BBC miniseries with Timothy Dalton as Rochester that I quite like the look of.

    • I own the Welles version was and was going to review it for when this Jane Eyre came to theatres but ultimately wasn’t up to it. And I was going to watch the Dalton version soon, too. I like him as an actor and wished that he remained James Bond rather than Pierce Brosnan. But then again, if it wasn’t for Brosnan’s excellent acting abilities we wouldn’t have The Matador, his best performance to date.

  2. Richard Winters

    I wished Dalton had ramained James Bond also as I prefered him to Brosnan and Roger Moore. Also, although I haven’t seen this movie I did like that shot of the mansion you used as the picture for your review. Great choice.

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