Cleolinda Jones (cleolinda) wrote,
Cleolinda Jones

So I saw Jane Eyre

Two movies in as many days! I am impressed with myself. And while I saw Water for Elephants (which was also good) so early in the day that the theater wasn't very crowded, I very nearly had it to myself this time.

@cleolinda: I am the only person in this theater, and I doubt that is going to change in the next ten minutes. It's kind of awesome.

@cleolinda: I am totally unafraid of going to movies by myself. I've gone with someone else and had the theater otherwise empty. But this is a new one.

@cleolinda: Except for the fact that I'm having to watch the trailer for The Beaver again, this is pretty much the ideal viewing experience.

@cleolinda: OH DAMMIT

At least the two other women didn't sit in front of me.

A preamble:

Jane Eyre was my favorite book as a teenager, and it reclaimed that title after I read it again two years ago, as an adult--and, I have to say, for someone who loved it so much, I was remarkably witless about it. What I loved about it at age thirteen--well, first of all, I was a library aide in middle school, and they would have us do some little book reports and things on the side, and we got to choose a book or two from a list and then take standardized bubble tests afterwards. So I read Jane Eyre for school originally, but never with any guided discussion. So, left to my own devices, I came to this book as a shy young teenager who felt lonely and ugly and lost, as most teenagers do, and saw a story about "this governess not yet twenty," who felt lonely and ugly and lost, and found a dark, brooding, intimidating man who was utterly brought to his knees by love for her. He would live for her, he would die for her, he just... also happens to have a wife in the attic. But no one has to know about it! Even if they do! He and Jane would live only for each other anyway! What does it matter! And I, a thirteen-year-old with a 1992-era sense of morality, totally agreed with him. No, it wouldn't be a legal marriage, but the way Rochester pleads his case, his circumstances are exceptionally exceptional and Jane is just too bound up in conventional morality omg to live with him in ~defiance~ of the world. As a kid, I thought Jane wasn't brave enough to stay, to defy convention, and that eventually she gained enough courage to defy St. John's vision of a moral, passionless partnership-marriage to go back to the man she loved. This is... not the most perceptive reading, and given how many times I read and reread that book, I don't quite know how I managed to get it so wrong, except that--what can I say? I was thirteen. 

When I read it for the first time in a long time, at the age of thirty... it was a completely different book. Suddenly, the entire book made sense to me as a whole, not just Stuff That Happens Before and After Rochester. For all her plainness and meekness, Jane is utterly true to herself, and from start to finish rebels against anything that threatens to diminish her soul. That's what all three sections have in common. Leaving someone who only wants to love her, but with a selfish love--leaving for the sake of her own self-respect--is the most defiant thing Jane could have possibly done. No one else would know that Mrs. Rochester was still alive--but she would know. (And Rochester's overweening pride and wallowing self-pity do not come off so well in his telling of the story, to the eyes of an adult reader. There's a reason he has to be humbled before Jane can come back to him.) There's a line in this adaptation that I had never read correctly before--when Mrs. Fairfax expresses some skepticism about the situation, I read it as, "Gentlemen in his station are not accustomed to marry their governesses." And Jane's incredibly offended--I think in the movie this time, she says, "Am I a monster?" But, see, no, that's not what Mrs. Fairfax is trying to tell her, not that she's not good enough for him, not that he wouldn't want her--Mrs. Fairfax, ever so delicately, is trying to warn her that gentlemen in his station are not accustomed to marry their governesses. And the way Judi Dench (yes, Judi Dench, kthnx) delivers the line, I finally got it. (It helps that the screenwriter tweaked the next line to be something like, "Until you are actually married, try and keep him at a distance, distrust both him and yourself.") Which brings me back to the point that it was the 1840s, and for Jane, a poor young woman adrift in the world, to tell a man no, to choose herself instead of comfort and security and passion, even if the alternative is a self-imposed exile from everything she knows, is an incredible act of rebellion. I mean, Rochester even says it--"Never, never was anything at once so frail and so indomitable.... I could bend her with my finger and thumb: and what good would it do if I bent, if I uptore, if I crushed her? Consider that eye: consider the resolute, wild, free thing looking out of it, defying me, with more than courage—with a stern triumph. Whatever I do with its cage, I cannot get at it." He can't get what he wants by forcing or killing her; he wants her to give herself, her entire self, to him. And she says no, because she values that self too much to give it under terms that would diminish it. As a teenager, living in a modern world where sex has far fewer social restrictions and is not something that would ruin you utterly, I saw it as a cage Jane was too afraid to let herself out of. In the context of the era, the context of her own values, it's a cage to keep her soul safe, to keep predators out, and it takes all of her strength and integrity to keep it shut.

(I can't believe how ignorant I was about my own favorite book. Jesus.)

Somehow, though--even though I didn't understand how it all hung together, I feel like the book somehow managed to shape a lot of who I am today. Maybe I got it and just hadn't realized it yet.

So I go see this new movie.

(No, I have not seen the 2006 BBC miniseries. Everyone raves about it, and I kept meaning to, and just somehow, I never did. I am remarkably easygoing about adaptations, and my heart has room for all of them.)

Here's the thing: the very first scene of this movie is Jane fleeing Thornfield. I have never seen a Jane Eyre movie do this before--play around with the chronology, rather than just march dutifully from A to B to C. (I love the Zeffirelli version with Charlotte Gainsbourg, but... it really kind of does just that.) And as much as I love this book, I should have been upset that so much got left out along the way, but I just kept smiling through the whole thing. Just total delight, and I don't even know why. It's a very streamlined, fleet-footed adaptation that starts with the Rivers family scenes, intermingles the Reed family and Lowood scenes, and moves through the latter briskly--as memories, really. And then, after about half an hour of this, we get to Thornfield--and so, at the end, we spend relatively little time with St. John (who is Jamie Bell, because Jamie Bell is a grownup now? What?), and get back to Thornfield quickly. Moreover, I kept noticing little lines or scenes that weren't strictly in the book, but I almost always liked them. We do have a scene were St. John actually yells at Jane to give up "this lawless passion"--"WHY ARE YOU TALKING TO THE AIR??"--and I loved that, because St. John is actually kind of creepy, you guys, and this movie lets that come out to play a little. In order to streamline the story and have it make sense in the movie, he needed to confront her about that, and accuse her of wanting Rochester instead of, you know, working herself to death in a loveless marriage in India, I have no idea why this would not appeal to her, in a moment where she explicitly defies him. Instead of the Rivers family section just kind of dragging on and being anticlimactic, it's woven into the overall story in a really interesting, dynamic way that goes somewhere, and uses only exactly as much of it as the film needs. I have to say, huge credit goes here to the director, Cary Fukunaga, and the screenwriter, Moira Buffini, for being willing to create a movie, a movie that exists on its own two-hour terms rather than slog through a given set of events just because it's supposed to.

And it's a beautiful, gothic and yet down-to-earth movie, full of moaning winds and Yorkshire mud and closeups of lit matches in the dark. There are some beautiful shots of Mia Wasikowska's face half-shadowed in dark rooms, emerging like a dim crescent moon. I had wondered if she wasn't playing Jane a bit meek and teary, but she ended up doing something I like to think of as "showing courage through fear"--you're not brave because you feel no fear; you're brave because you're terrified and you press on anyway. It's the very agony of the "No, I must leave" scene that shows you how strong Jane is to walk away. And her Jane is so innocent and young, it's all the more amazing that she manages to physically wrench herself away. In particular, from Michael Fassbender. I was all clappy-squee when he was first cast because I knew exactly how his Rochester would be, and I was right, except times one thousand. I swear to God, we got to the part where Jane saves him from the bedroom fire and he's all, "What, Jane? You just saved my life, and you would walk past me like a stranger?," and then he keeps leaning closer and asking if she won't stay, and they keep staring at each other, and he's, like, burning a hole through her with the power of his smolder, and he pretty much leans in to kiss her but stops just a breath away and stays there and the screen nearly MELTED. You almost think for a moment that the whole movie might go off the rails and rewrite history. It's... just... something else.

Hm. What else. The Dario Marianelli score is gorgeous. I couldn't figure out why the movie was reminding me of the 2005 Pride and Prejudice (which I love) until I saw his name on the end credits. The costumes are good--this one bonnet is, I have no other word for it, fabulous--and they do a good job of dressing Wasikowska in plain colors but interesting textures. But Jane Eyre movies don't tend to be terribly showy, and the Oscar tends to be for Most Costumes, so I don't know about awards. The gardens and grounds of the Hall are wonderful, but then, I just really like gardens. Of course, this little voice kept going, but but but, excuse me, the proposal under the tree is supposed to be at night, but for some reason the rest of me was just like, shhhhhh, we are enjoying this. There were all kinds of things missing or different and it seemed to go so fast but I just kept wishing there was more, changed or not. My only explanation is that the movie itself is so good as a movie, or that it resonated with me in some particular way, that I didn't care. I just beamed all the way through it. Even the ending--abrupt and perfect--made me happy. At this point, I'm just hoping a DVD with extra scenes comes out soon.

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Tags: best of, book discussion, books, jane eyre, movie discussion, movies, twitter

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