Sunday, 13 August 2017

Jane Eyre [2011] (4 Stars)

The film poster that I've used at the head of this post shows one of the things I hate most about film posters and DVD covers. If a poster shows a film's actors, and the actors are named on the poster, the written names should match the actors. Look at the poster. "Mia Wasikowska" is written over Michael Fassbender's head, and "Michael Fassbender" is written over Mia Wasikokowska's head. I'm not saying that I have trouble telling the two actors apart. I'm just saying that the poster is poorly designed.

I read the novel "Jane Eyre" when I was still at school. It wasn't part of my English Literature classes, it was something I wanted to read. In my mid teens, 14 to 16, I devoured the English classic novels, although this is the only novel by Charlotte Brontë that I read. Maybe I didn't read any more because I couldn't relate to "Jane Eyre" as a teenage boy. It's a book written by a woman for female readers.

The book is a first person narrative, relating everything from a woman's perspective. I should say from a girl's perspective. The novel begins with her aged 10 and ends when she's 19. We see her in three stages of her life.

After the death of her parents she's briefly adopted by her aunt, but is sent to a boarding school because she's considered a burden on her new family. It's a strict Christian school, so she is treated badly and frequently beaten.

When she leaves school she becomes the governess and private teacher of a young girl on a large estate, Thornfield Hall. She falls in love with the estate's owner, Edward Rochester, but he deceives her by not telling her he's already married.

Jane flees from Thornfield Hall and is taken in by a humble clergyman, John Rivers, who finds her a job as the headmistress of a new village school.

The story takes place in the early 19th Century, which is when it was written. It was a difficult time for women. Jane was oppressed by men and men's religion wherever she went. She was a free thinker and wanted to live her own life as she pleased, but it was practically impossible. As a woman she had very few options, and as a poor woman she had none.

Nevertheless, she survived. "Jane Eyre" is usually considered to be a gothic novel, because it's laced with supernatural occurrences, even if we later find out that there are natural explanations for everything that happens. The story's atmosphere is gothic, at least. However, it's more accurate to call it a feminist novel. Jane doesn't just survive, she takes control of her own destiny. When she arrives at the clergyman's house she's weak and dependent on charity, but when she leaves the house at the end of the novel she's strong and in a position to assist others, including others who are men.

The story has been simplified for the film, but even though some of the novel's details have been omitted it still manages to portray the major themes. The actors in the main roles put on magnificent performances. Michael Fassbender portrays a man who is brash and aggressive, but an emotional cripple. Mia Wasikowska is perfect in the title role, because she looks timid, but Jane Eyre is an intelligent and passionate woman. That's what Charlotte Brontë wanted to express. She wanted her female readers, housewives living in a men's world, to emulate Jane's strength in themselves.

A brief word about Mrs. Fairfax, played by Judi Dench. She is the old type of woman, happy with living a life of subservience to men, a complete contrast to Jane. She's related to Edward Rochester, but she makes no attempt to be any more than a housekeeper. She's a woman. She's a servant. That's all.

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