Making the Grades
I have a certain respect for a moviemaker who dares to make yet another version of a novel that has already been put to celluloid many times. I can’t find a complete count, but it’s safe to say the story’s famous line would be better voiced, "Viewer, I married him."
Yet director Cary Fukunaga, with relatively few titles in his portfolio, has not only managed to refresh this 19th Century novel, but has created a film that aptly carries itself from middle, to beginning to end. Yes, starting from the middle where Jane (Mia Wasikowska) arrives at the Rivers’ home (for those of you who are familiar with the book) shifts the focus and allows the production to cut far more rapidly to the love story. Flashbacks still fill in the necessary details of Jane’s tortured childhood (we see her and another girl paddled and caned) and her eventual "graduation" from an orphanage. These sequences also show her employment at Thornfield Hall as a governess to Adele Varens (Romy Settbon Moore), who is the charge of the mansion’s usually absent owner, Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender).
The script skips along quickly until the fateful moment when Jane, apparently hard of hearing, doesn’t notice a horse approaching at full gallop. Perhaps one of the more renowned romantic meetings, the arrogant (and as yet not introduced) Rochester hits the ground and must rely on little Jane to assist with reseating him on his mount. From this point the plot slows, allowing us a few moments to linger and perhaps wonder why sweet Jane would be so forgiving of her gruff boss. After all, he is a man she describes as ugly, who teases her with a visit from another woman of interest, and has more than a skeleton in his closet.
Families looking for an opportunity to interest kids in classic literature should be pleased with this choice. Content concerns are relatively minor considering the MPAA’s (Motion Picture Association of America) award of a PG-13 rating. Young viewers may find Jane’s treatment at the orphanage troubling, especially at the hand of a religious figure. In a later scene a bloody wound is shown in detail. And then there’s the mentally ill character that has an affinity for arson. Finally, for those wondering about the "nude image" mentioned in the MPAA’s rating descriptor, it refers to a fascination young Jane has for a painting of a reclining nude woman (the work of art is seen in close-up).
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of this film is Mia Wasikowska’s performance and style. Presented as Plain Jane to perfection, she drives home many of her scenes with sublime confidence. Added to that is the interesting English scenery (and there’s a lot of it to enjoy here). However, unless your kids have a particular penchant for this genre, this quiet tale may send them running—especially once they sense there is love in the Eyre.
Release Date: 11 March 2011 (USA Limited), 1 April 2011(Canada)
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Jane Eyre.
What do you see as Jane’s motivations for falling in love with Mr. Rochester? Does he deserve her forgiveness? Would the situation be different if it took place in the present?
How does starting the narrative in the middle of the story change the focus of the plot? Do you like this creative decision?