“Jane Eyre” (2011): ahhhhh.

28 March 2011

Mia Wasikowska, the 21-year-old actor who appears in virtually every shot of this beautiful film, is a wonder — and that’s saying a lot. I’ve seen many Jane Eyre adaptations but have always felt that I needed to bring a knowledge of the book to understand the depth of feeling Jane experienced. Whereas in the book we have her narrating her life, it’s hard for actors to convey how much Jane has learned through hard and lonely experience to suppress her feelings, maintain feminine reserve, and quietly inhabit her social rank, at least when with others. Wasikowska, however, has a preternatural capacity to let waves of emotion cross her face while also remaining placid; yet when she allows her true feeling to come forth in words and expression, we see how hard the effort of suppression is — and how much a brilliant mind lies behind that “plain and little” face. Oh my god, it’s amazing.

Here’s what I’ve noticed lately about the serious women actors of her generation (and I leave out the non-serious ones who act in teen comedies): even at their most excellent, they bury themselves so deep in a part that they don’t allow the viewer to see their inner conflicts. Take just two of them who earned so much praise last year (including from me): Jennifer Lawrence of Winter’s Bone and Hailee Steinfeld of True Grit. Their performances were truly excellent, yet between the nature of those roles — which demanded a high degree of stoicism — and the actors’ relative inexperience they ultimately demonstrate an extraordinary degree of actor’s modesty, especially when surrounded by male actors willing to appear far more vivid, fascinating, horrific. As a result, Wasikowska’s actorly range and bravery is amazing. (Not that I’m surprised after watching her on season 1 of In Treatment, which was so amazing I’d watch it all over again even though it’s got to be one of the most painful things I’ve ever seen.)

When I saw the film with my Dear Friend, she complained about Michael Fassbender (above) as Rochester, saying he drew too much attention to himself by using his eyes so much that it undermined the effect of his scenes. She also mentions that it’s hard to understand why Jane loves him (a shortcoming in the book, too, if you ask me) — and I want to suggest that these two things are related. Certainly Fassbender captures Rochester’s hard, bitter edge and the misogyny I always felt was part of his character; why else would he toy with Jane in that ridiculous attempt to make her jealous by flirting with Miss Ingram? My feeling is that Rochester is a tough role that’s too often played more softly as if he’s a romantic hero rather than a reluctant one; in that respect Fassbender does a great job. (It’s worth noting how much Fassbender has a scary propensity to play these slightly misogynistic roles, after his brilliant and somewhat horrifying turn in Fish Tank.)

More important, I thought the use of his eyes was crucial to the role — and maybe that’s because, for me, the love story is fundamentally about how Rochester truly sees Jane’s inner character, her intelligence, her unexpected strength, her soul. Even though she feels she’s concealing all of it behind that stoic mask she’s learned to wear, Rochester sees early on that she’s exceptional — no wonder the story works so well as a romance (don’t we all want to be seen for our true selves?). I want to suggest that we see through his huge, cruel eyes how much Rochester really doesn’t have control over his feelings, and that he wrestles with his own demons, his own tendency to bury himself in self-pity and hardness rather than open himself up to feeling for others. Jane expresses her emotion through her increasingly visible efforts to suppress it; Rochester expresses it through his increasingly uncontrolled eyes that don’t want to believe there could be such a woman for him. So, Dear Friend, I need a response to this claim!  

A final note about Cary Joji Fukunaga’s directing and Moira Buffini’s screenplay, which captured the intensity of gothic horror and the passion of feeling so well. Having loved Fukunaga’s Sin Nombre (2009; and what a different film!) I knew this would be something to see; and it’s no easy feat to wrangle all of a 19th-c. novel into a neat 115 minutes. They achieve it by privileging the central tale of Jane and Rochester rather than her childhood and her time with the Rivers siblings — and I think it’s wholly successful, even for those who haven’t read the book and don’t know the litany of horrors she experiences before coming to Thornfield Hall and meeting Rochester. It never felt Harry Potter-ed, that is, like one of those excessively literal adaptations that labors to hit every key scene of a novel. It was scary, heartbreaking, dark, beautiful, compelling, and I can hardly wait to see it again.

31 Responses to ““Jane Eyre” (2011): ahhhhh.”

  1. Sandrine Says:

    Hello Feminéma,
    I just discoverded your website last sunday, for a research about an other period drama story, Little Dorrit. And yesterday after i have read this very interesting review about Jane Eyre, i thought it was time to post a comment. First, your website is very nice, simple and make people want to read it. I really like your way of writting. I want to see more than ever this film, after that. So good job, because that’s why we do that in the end. All the blog thing: to share our love for things and inspire people to discover it. 🙂
    I don’t know if you had the chance to see the BBC (4 parts) version of Jane Eyre, 2006. It’s, for me, the best adaptation. The two actors, Ruth Wilson & Toby Stephens, were excellents and the chemistry… god… amazing, perfect. And i’ll be very critical with the 2011 version. I hope i’ll not compare it too much. I’ll have no difficulty to enjoy Michael Fassbender. He’s too sexy and has eyes too beautiful (which move apparently too much), to play Mr. Rochester but I’m sure i’ll be strong enough to go beyond. I just hope he did not play too much the depressing and tormented part of his character. Let’s wait and see.
    In France we won’t see the film before september. Fortunately for me I’ll come for one year in Canada (from may), so i hope i’ll find a place where it’ll be still on screens.
    My sister is not very good in english. Which is to bad, because she would have loved your website, specially for your posts about women, strong independent women.
    Take care. See you maybe in an other comment.

    • Didion Says:

      Thank you so much! And I’d just been thinking I wanted to see the 2006 version again. It’s hard for me to see Ruth Wilson in other things because I so much associate her with Jane.

      And I don’t think you need to be too critical with this new version — I LOVED it. But you can see much fan debate here at Servetus’s site.

      • Sandrine Says:

        Yes i have already read (sorry for my poor conjugation, i try to work on that) the review of your “Dear Friend” who complained about Fassbender’s eyes ;). Actually i dit it before yours. I was happy to discoverded an other fan of Richard Armittage. All around the world, we are everywhere. 😀
        For Miss Wilson, i only saw her on Jane Eyre, that i just discoverded one week ago. But when i see a photo of her now, i barely recognize her, so maybe it will be fine for me. Let’s hope. But i completly fall for her. Not at first, but she got me as the end. And i’m not talking about Toby Stephens. This was another discovery. Now I HAVE TO watch AL his work… or at least some.

      • Didion Says:

        Be sure to check out The Tenant of Wildfell Hall with Toby Stephens, which I wrote about last summer. He’s much younger and more clean-cut than in Jane Eyre, but he’s terrific.

      • Didion Says:

        I’ve got to attach these video clips because, well, we really need to watch them again:

  2. Traxy Says:

    So many actors get it wrong when it comes to Rochester. I’ve not seen the new movie yet so can’t comment on Fassbender (it not being out in the UK for another 163 days – not that I’m counting or anything *cough*) but reading the book and seeing all the previous adaptations I’ve managed to get hold of … Toby Stephens is the only one that has got all the aspects of the character. Hinds was too angry, Jayston too snarky, Welles too melodramatic, and so on. But anyway. There’s so much to be said about his character that I can go on about him for far too long (and often do), so I’ll try to shut up. 😉

    BTW, for a very good portrayal of Rochester’s life, check out “Jane Eyre’s Husband” by Tara Bradley, available for Kindle. I freakin’ LOVE it!!

    • Didion Says:

      Oooh, I don’t know about this book. And I truly hope you like Fassbender’s version of Rochester. The one complaint I had about Toby Stephens — who was also great (and could that man be any more beautiful?) — was that I didn’t see much chemistry between him and Ruth Wilson (also great; I can never watch her now without thinking of that role). And I always felt that chemistry was so important to Jane & Rochester, and I think Fassbender & Wasikowska get it right.

      All this talk about the film, especially at Me & Richard, makes me want to see it again immediately.

      WHY does it take so long for films to open worldwide? And, for that matter, why does it take so long for books to be released? I was so desperate for the final book in the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series that I finally bought a used UK copy.

  3. @Rob Says:

    I do have a soft spot for Toby, and I did enjoy his Rochester. But I have to say that he played him a bit too petulant and over the top. I feel that as Dideron pointed out Fassbender got to that tragic reluctant hero. He brought out the jaded world weary man.

    I remember enjoying a ver with William Hurt. Altho, I haven’t seen the entire Welles ver. I watched clips in U Tube and thought it seemed sort of campy.

    • Didion Says:

      You know, I think my main complaint about the Toby version was that I didn’t feel the intense chemistry between him and Ruth Wilson the way I felt it between Fassbender & Wasikowska … maybe it’s because I find Fassbender a much more sexually charged man than Toby (despite the latter’s extraordinary beauty). I also think the film allowed us to see a bit more of the charged atmosphere of the bedroom during the fire scene (Rochester in a nightshirt, etc.). Ahhhh.

  4. @Rob Says:

    Fassbender has got “it” in spades. Doesn’t he? It just oozes off of him. As far as looks go, he’s handsome, but for me, it is waay more than that. As you said, he is a sexually charged man. He has charisma in spades.

    Maybe it is an Irish man vs a British man thing? I find both attractive, for different reasons. Irish men have that wild bad boy crazy confidence humor tortured soul thing going. Whereas, British men have that reserved, gentlemanly, self depricating, it’s all happening under the surface thing going. Irish men are there to corrupt you, and British men are there for you to corrupt.

  5. @Rob Says:

    Oh, I am listening to Flimspotting now. Thanks for the tip. That lucky horse! I hear ya, I have a good nice man, but as you said bad boys are the stuff of an afternoon fantasy! Can’t believe our friedn Sev is not held captive of him! What’s up with that?

    • Didion Says:

      I’m unconcerned, because if there’s one thing Servetus is good at, it’s close analysis of a subject. I suspect she’ll warm to him on repeated viewings. Didn’t she already confess that he’s the right physical type for her?

  6. Sandrine Says:

    OMG, there is a lot of new comments since my last one. 🙂 I like that you put the 2 clips Didion to make us feel a little bit more “toute chose”… 😉 Like Traxy, in France it won’t be until a long time before we had a chance to see the new Jane Eyre version. Actually we’ll find the american/canadian dvd version before by internet. Until then i’m in a Fassbender phase. 🙂 I watched a little bit of “Fish Tank”. I have “Hunger” on my hard drive since a long time ago, and now I know it’s him, it became completly different and interesting in a new way. 😉 I pushed for a long time watching it because of the hardness of the subject. And few days ago french tv broadcasted “300” again, but looking of Fassbender, instead of Gerard Butler this time. I think Fassbender is less sexy, younger. That’s all me. There’s a lot of actors sexier with few years more. And you, what do you think? An other film, “Angel”, I heard about it when it came out in France but didn’t watch it. Now I know he’s on it, it joins my Michael F. list.

    Now, about Toby Stephens, in “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall”. I watched some extraits on YouTube. Yes he’s much younger and more clean-cut than in “Jane Eyre” (it’s made 10 years before), like you said. I should watch that, at some point. That and the series “Perfect Strangers”, with Matthew Macfadyen. I have also seen some parts of the UK series “Robin Hood” and he’s excellent, as usual.
    Didion, you said you didn’t feel the intense chemistry between him and Ruth Wilson the way you felt it between Fassbender & Wasikowska. I can’t wait to see this film because for me the chemistry between to 2 of the BBC version was ENORMOUS and that’s what suprise me, and why I finally decide to read the book. I’m in the middle. 🙂 And I can’t stop thinking of them while I’m reading it. But maybe you it’s because of the sex-appeal of Mister Fassbender, which i completly understand. But I think Toby is also too. I realized that when I saw him on reading “CBeebies Bedtime Story” for kids and I was like yum yum yummmieee, yes kido listen to the story while I’m watching the storyteller.

    • Didion Says:

      You know, it took me a while to realize that Fassbender was the sexy Azazeal in “Hex” on British TV a while back — it was a sort of stupid show but oh my, he was memorable. The man can play sexy and brooding like nobody’s business.

      I just re-read the book and was so touched (again) by its treatment of why Jane and Rochester love one another. There’s a long passage in which he describes being drawn to her from the very first time they encountered one another — it’s a girl’s dream. Fantastic!

  7. Sandrine Says:

    Oh, i didn’t succeed to put the YouTube video like you.

  8. @Rob Says:

    I watched Angel and I totally didn’t get it. Even Fassbender couldn’t save this cluncker of a film. If you watch it, I would be interested to hear your thoughts on it.

    Toby had a totally diff take on Rochester. As I said, I have a big soft spot for Toby and always enjoy watching him. I enjoyed Toby, but perfer Fassbender’s Rochester. I think he got to the heart of the character, in a way that Toby did not. And for me, Mia is now the quintessienal Jane that all others will fail in comparison.

  9. Didion Says:

    I haven’t seen it! but I’ve watched some clips online and I must admit, despite some really nice naked butt scenes, it looks pretty overwrough. I’m not a big fan of Romola Garai, who plays Angel. But I’ll be certain to let you know if I sit down with it for a full evening.

  10. @Rob Says:

    I think the director was going for something and it just didn’t translate in the final film. The crazy thing is people either love it or hate it. Isn’t that always the way?

    A while ago, I made a comment on Sev’s post that it was too bad that Armitage didn’t take the same route Fassbender did THAT was before I saw Hex. Looks like they both did time brooding in guyliner on the Beebs in chessetastic telly.

  11. martina Says:

    Hello, there. I got so intrigued by all this ‘Toby’ writing that I found a video on YouTube named: The Best of Rochesters.

    There ‘s really no Rochester like Fassbender.

    Yours completely fassbendered,


    • Didion Says:

      This is awesome.

      One of my favorite podcasters, Dana Stevens of Slate, says that the William Hurt Rochester is the best. But I’m with you: Fassbender takes the cake.

      • martina Says:

        Couldn’t agree more. :))

        Yesterday evening I wathed a part of the J.E. for the fifth time. The culminating chemistry between Wasikowska and Fassbender is so tangible….
        Every teenage girl’s dream, I guess.

        AND mine, I must add.:)

        Though I’m in my mid-thirties, I really miss the French bad guys on motorcycles. 🙂

        Can you imagine Fassebender looking like Rochester on a bike taking you for a drink on the Cote d’Azur??!!

      • Didion Says:

        Oh, my dear, I can imagine many scenarios involving Fassbender with me. Cote d’Azure and motorcycles are only the setup.

        Fassbender is easily the sexiest of all Rochesters, although I’ll admit that Ciaran Hinds and Timothy Dalton look the type better.

      • Didion Says:

        Let me also note: five times! I’ve seen it three times and can hardly wait to own the DVD.

  12. martina Says:

    Me, too. I hope to get the extended version. There are some scenes in the official trailer that are not included in the film.

  13. […] Or yet again: I’m utterly fassbendered. Definition: “exhausted from the sweet pleasure of watching Jane Eyre for the third time.” […]

  14. Didion Says:

    Ahhh indeed! Great fan video that will have to get some frequent re-viewings here at Feminema headquarters.

  15. […] much hemming and hawing, and after composing many pro and con lists, we have determined that only Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre can be the winner. Mia Wasikowska’s perfect portrayal of Jane was matched by a […]

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