Jane under the bonsai scissors
I always wondered how well the Harry Potter movies worked out for someone who never had read the books. While most of them were quite enjoyable as an illustration to or a reminder about some of the best scenes, it always seemed to me that it must be pretty hard to follow what actually was going on and to get a grasp of the myriad of characters shown on screen.
And this was also my thought as I watched the newest Jane Eyre adaptation. How enjoyable is this for someone who approaches the movie with fresh eyes, not knowing anything about the story?
I’m not a purist in the sense that I start scolding anyone making a film adaption of a novel and I don’t expect every bit there is in a novel to appear in a movie. Sacrifices will have to be made to make it work as a movie. I never questioned why they had to leave out Tom Bombadil from the LOTR movies.
However, I expect from a movie that it stands on its own, and I’m not entirely convinced this one does. Does someone who didn’t read the book really understand why Rochester has decided to take care of the little French girl? Her mother is only mentioned in half a sentence, that’s all. Does he or she understand what’s going on in the castle at nights and what makes Jane so scared? And doesn’t the love between Rochester and Jane come rather sudden before you’ve gotten the chance to see any proper buildup?
I understand the problem the movie makers have been facing (in good company with everyone else who previously has tried to transfer Jane Eyre to the screen). The novel is so rich that it not easily can be boiled down into a two hour format. A TV series would be more suitable for this story.
So what do they do? Well, they certainly don’t rush anything. The pacing is slow and they let the camera take any time that is needed to establish a mood picturing a landscape or resting on a face.
It makes me think about Japanese design – clean, simple and mercilessly cut down like a bonsai tree. It makes me think of a dish I got at a restaurant I went to this weekend. There was a tiny, tiny little piece of fish in the middle of the plate – having the size of a small box of matches. Then there were a few dots and lines around it, painted with sauce and spices. It looked very artistic indeed. But did it make me feel fulfilled? Not entirely. It’s as if the entire movie is anemic, lacking blood and heat.
Michael Fassbender is a wonderful actor, and very handsome too, but I don’t quite recognize Rochester as I had imagined him. Where’s the tormented soul? Isn’t he supposed to be at least a little bit frightening?
Mia Wasikowska’s Jane is also on the minimalistic side. There isn’t very much going on in her face. But somehow it actually works. As she delivers the classical line – ” Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?” – I think to myself that she’s like Jane should be – fragile on the outside, strong and sharp as a diamond on the inside.
Not much to remember
On the whole I enjoyed Jane Eyre pretty well. I liked the mood, the costumes, the setting, the cinematography and I liked how they breathed some fresh air into the story by simply chopping it up a little, not telling it in the traditional chronological order.
If they had been brave enough to make a longer movie, at least three hours, it might have been really good. Now I’m afraid I’ll probably remember it as the pale version where they had cut away a little bit too much.
Jane Eyre (Cary Fukunaga, 2011) My rating: 3,5/5