Tuesday, April 26, 2011
For a film about a singular meeting of minds, Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre is kind of undistinguished. Now, the words remain delicious morsels straight from Charlotte Bronte’s novel, and the performances (Mia Wasikwoska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, and Judi Dench) embody three-dimensions like James Cameron never dreamed of. But like Never Let Me Go, another painterly romance where the words preach transcendence and the style settles for ordinary, Jane Eyre is pretty in the usual ways—jewel tones, peat planetscapes, lived-in antiques—animating everything in Bronte’s story except its spirit.
Well, not everything’s straightforward. The story is jumbled, opening with Jane fleeing Rochester’s mansion and finding comfort in the welcome, dashing arms of a freshly worked-out Jamie Bell, and instead of Bronte’s one-way road we keep yanking from flashbacks to present for no discernable reason beyond injecting gloom over the central romance since we know how it ostensibly ends. It purports to be noirish haze but is actually a cheap fake-out. It’s like Joe Gillis narrating a story that opens with his body floating in a pool, only once we catch up to that point, he climbs out, towels off, and kisses his beloved in her decaying mansion.
How anyone could fail to understand what Jane sees in Michael Fassbender’s Rochester—a sharp, mysterious vision—is beyond me, but Fukunaga doesn’t show us what he sees in Jane. Surely their meet-cute wasn’t it, as he snarls at her for startling his horse, but by their next encounter, he’s already fascinated with her, as smitten as a brooding Heathcliff can be. Not only does it suggest a simply physical lust that belies all the talk of intellectual connection, but it smacks of fatalism, a problem considering the major themes are of equality and independence.
Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre is a sumptuous romantic landscape I would gladly get lost in with gothic set-pieces that deliriously evoke its self-destructive wonder. It’s a detailed reincarnation of the monster’s every body part lacking only the metaphysical electricity that charges it.