Movie Review: Jane Eyre (2011)

Image via Matttrailer.com

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I reviewed Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre for Masterpiece Monday last week, and today I watched this year’s adaptation, directed by fellow UCSC alum Cary Joji Fukunaga.

The movie stars Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland”) as Jane, Michael Fassbender (“300,” “X-Men: First Class”) as Mr. Rochester, and Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax (I’m not even going to list her other films, because if you don’t know Judi Dench, then get out from under your rock!).

I loved these actors in these roles, as well as appreciated appearances by Sally Hawkins from “Never Let Me Go” as Mrs. Reed and Tamzin Merchant from “The Tudors” show as Mary Rivers.

Mia played an excellent Jane, simultaneously strong-willed and vulnerable. She wasn’t made up to look gorgeous, which Jane sure wasn’t, so instead her personality shined. Michael also achieved as Rochester: handsome, but not excessively so, and nicely varied between loving and untrustworthy.

As a lover of Victorian literature and cinema, I enjoyed the rural settings and the costumes. Fukunaga’s transitions between past and present might confuse those unfamiliar with the story, but they work just fine for fans.

There’s just something about adapting the novel that doesn’t work. The character-driven, coming-to-age story is perfect in print, because you want to digest it slowly; however, on screen the pacing is often too slow–a complaint more on the part of impatient viewers like myself and less on the director’s faults.

You also can’t see the major themes as deeply, including social hierarchy, gender differences and equality, and the role of religion. It’s these themes which make the novel more than a love story and instead an insightful critique of social norms regarding patriarchy, marriage, education, and mental health.

Lastly, influential people in Jane’s life, like Helen and St. John Rivers, are just minor characters in the film. And Bertha Mason, a character so intriguing that novels have been written to expand on her perspective, is reduced to a Helena Bonham Carter-lookalike, a madwoman with little more than a name, let alone a history. Bronte herself did not focus too much on Bertha (hence the spin-offs), but I felt like I understood her more in the book.

I would recommend this movie to Jane Eyre fans, so they can form their own opinions, but if you haven’t read the book yet and are just looking for some romance, I’d pass on this film and watch something more conventionally ‘Hollywood.’

Masterpiece Monday: Jane Eyre

Portrait of Charlotte Brontë

Portrait of Charlotte Brontë (Image via Wikipedia)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Since last week, I blogged about Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, I thought I’d discuss Emily’s equally famous sister Charlotte’s masterpiece Jane Eyre, which was published in 1847 under her pen name Currer Bell. In addition, I plan on watching its most recent movie adaptation sometime this week.

This novel follows Bronte fashion by incorporating Gothic Romanticism, unconventional characters, and a feminist perspective. The story begins with Jane Eyre’s childhood. As an orphan, she grew up with a cruel aunt and attended a miserable boarding school. Eventually, she meets Edward Rochester and falls in love with him.

The rest of the novel narrates their romance and the various obstacles in their way, including financial issues and strange happenings inside Rochester’s home. I won’t give anything away, because the novel’s mystery makes it even more enjoyable.

What I love about Jane Eyre is that even though she’s not the prettiest woman, she stands up for herself and refuses to be defined or dependent on men. In comparison to Catherine in Wuthering Heights, Jane does not allow her social standing to determine how she lives her life and whom she marries.

However, I gave Wuthering Heights a higher rating, because I was more enamored with Heathcliff than Mr. Rochester. Rochester was very stern and harsh at times, and it was hard to trust him, given his certain decisions in the past which I will not divulge. I felt that Heathcliff, although also cruel to others, used his anger to mask his true passion and deep down, only had eyes for Cathy–even during her marriage to another man and after her death. He’s the ultimate bad boy with a good heart.

But you really can’t go wrong either way, since both Bronte sisters produced exquisite work. Lovers of Victorian romances will have probably already read Jane Eyre, but if you haven’t yet, hurry up and do it already! Then tell me what you thought!

Favorite Quote: “It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action–they will make it if they cannot find it.”

Masterpiece Monday: Wuthering Heights

Cover of "Wuthering Heights (Signet Class...

Cover of Wuthering Heights (Signet Classics)

Rating: 5 out of 5

I’m going to update the 30-day book challenge tomorrow, but today was supposed to be “Book that turned you on.” Bodice-ripping Harlequins don’t qualify as “masterpieces,” so I just decided to make this week’s meme about my favorite literary romance novel: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

Emily Bronte came from a brilliant English family. She had five siblings: two sisters who died young of tuberculosis, her brother Patrick, and her equally famous sisters Charlotte (Jane Eyre) and Anne (Agnes Grey). All the Bronte children were artistic and excelled in writing and painting. The girls, however, went by pseudonyms for publication–Ellis, Currer, and Acton Bell–of which the initials matched their real names. Wuthering Heights is Emily’s only novel, which was published in 1847. She died from tuberculosis a year later at the age of 30. In fact, their father sadly outlived all his children.

The novel, narrated by Nelly, the housekeeper of Wuthering Heights, follows the tragic relationship between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. It starts off when a new resident meets an older Heathcliff and his son, but Nelly takes the reader back 30 years prior, when Heathcliff (a homeless gypsy) is adopted by the Earnshaws.

Catherine soon grows close to Heathcliff, but her fixation on social status keeps them apart. The two must face the age-old decision between love and money, but if you know anything about Victorian literature, you probably already know what’s chosen.

Other than the difficulty in comprehending this convoluted family tree, full of multiple generations and repeating names, I have no complaints about Wuthering Heights. It’s the epitome of all star-crossed lover stories, surpassing even Romeo and Juliet, in my opinion.

The romance is heart-wrenching, dramatized but not glorified. Many despise Catherine for her selfishness and superficiality and Heathcliff for his cruelty and angst, but they are not supposed to be the perfect couple. Bronte focuses on the dark side of love and makes the reader wonder what is love’s purpose: to create or destroy? burn with passion or engulf in flames? make lovers better or worse human beings?

Wuthering Heights is easily one of my top five books of all time, but if you like traditional romance novels with cheery prince-like male love interests, then you won’t like this book. But if you appreciate raw, often ugly, all-consuming love, then don’t hesitate and pick up this book now.

And if I only write one novel, like Emily, then I just hope it’s a fraction as good as hers, because it truly is a masterpiece.

Favorite Quote: “‘And I pray one prayer–I repeat it till my tongue stiffens–Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living! You said I killed you–haunt me, then! The murdered DO haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts HAVE wandered on earth. Be with me always–take any form–drive me mad! only DO not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I CANNOT live without my life! I CANNOT live without my soul!'” (Ch. 16)