Thursday, May 5, 2011

Movie Review: Jane Eyre

This week, I watched the movie Jane Eyre (2011), based off of the novel of the same name by Charlotte Brontë.  Because I am a big fan of the book, I was excited and curious to see how it translated onto the screen, in the form of a modern, well-budgeted film.  (There have been many film versions of the story in the past, but as far as I know, all of them were old, low-budgeted, or both.)  I was also very curious (and admittedly a little anxious) to find out how closely the movie would stick to the original story. 
For the most part, I was not disappointed. The casting was absolutely excellent; Mia Wasikowska played a perfect Jane, Michael Fassbender played a perfect Mr. Rochester (although he was not exactly how I imagined him, he captured Mr. Rochester's personality exactly), and the same was true for every actor, as far as I could tell.  The lighting was also done excellently; its dark tone helped set the mood for the story. 

Also, the story was almost exactly identical to the book; for about a third of the way through the movie, I was completely thrilled with watching the book seemingly come to life in front me. However, there were a few differences that popped up; some were subtle, and they seemed entirely appropriate and acceptable to me; while others did bother me a little bit.

The two most noticeable differences, for me, were the general mood of the story, and the sequence of events.  In the book, the mood was dark, mysterious, and intriguing; while there was an aspect of sadness to the story, I thought the mysteriousness and suspense far outweighed the sadness, and I did not come away from the book feeling heavy-hearted.  The movie was somewhat flipped; it definitely captured the dark mood of the story, but it seemed to emphasize the sadness of the story more than the mysteriousness.  There was certainly a happy ending, but I still personally came away from the movie feeling more saddened than I did when I read the book. 

Also, while there was definitely a lot of suspense in the movie, I did not think it built up as strongly as it did in the book; in fact, the resolving of the mystery seemed somewhat anticlimactic to me.  But this could just be because the movie is only two hours long, so it does not have nearly as much time to built up suspense as a 300-page book does. 
The other major difference from the novel is the sequence of events.  The movie starts off later in the story, with Jane running away from Thornefield and meeting St. John and his sisters.  It then flashes back to the rest of the story to explain Jane's history.  While this is a slightly different order of events, I did not think it affected the story at all; in fact, it was a great way to suck the viewers into the movie right away.  Starting from the very beginning of the story, with Jane's childhood, worked great in a novel, but it would not have had the same affect in a visual-based medium like film.
There were also a few minor differences in the movie that were less noticeable than the mood and the sequence of events.  First, because a 300-page story was compressed into a two-hour-long movie, a lot was left out.  While nearly all the important points of the story were covered, there were quite a few minor details that got chopped out; and the result was a story that seemed to jump staccato style from event to event, without any real transitions in between.  It did not bother me, because I knew the story, and I knew what was being left out; but people who had not read the book told me it was very confusing and disorienting. 

Also, the Christian themes of the story were watered down, and (almost) completely removed.  The overall treatment of religion (specifically Christianity) seemed somewhat negative in the movie, while I found the overall treatment of religion to be more positive in the book.  (Yes, there were some negative aspects to religion in the book, but I thought, overall, the book cast religion -- especially Christian morals -- in a positive light.  Maybe it was just me.)  I thought Christian morals were strong in the book, but they were hardly emphasized at all in the movie. 

The two main morals the book deals with are the sanctity of marriage, and doing the right thing -- resisting temptation -- even when it is extremely hard.  Both of these themes were definitely in the movie, but just not as strongly as in the book.

Another minor difference that bothered me was the fact that Jane's school does not change, as it does in the book; it seems to remain just as strict, cold, and harsh when she leaves the school as when she arrives. 
However, any other story changes in the movie seemed pretty subtle, and not noticeable or memorable enough for me to complain about.  For an example, when ten-year-old Jane is locked in the "haunted" bedroom, she is frightened by a cloud of smoke coming out of the fireplace, instead of a little "light" that she thinks is coming from a ghost.  Obviously, the smoke is more visually interesting, and I think it worked better in the movie (while the light was perfectly affective in the novel). 

Also, during a dramatic, climatic scene (specifically, the "attempted" wedding), Mr. Rochester starts to strangle his brother-in-law in a heat of rage; in the book, he merely lifted his arm to strike him (but did not actually deliver the blow).  Again, I thought this was good and necessary, because the scene had to be more visually grabbing for the movie (no pun intended).  I thought the affect was the same in the book and the movie.

As you can see, the movie had a few differences from the book; but in general, I thought it was an excellent and well-made rendering of Charlotte Brontë's novel.  I definitely recommend it to fans of the novel, and to fans of period romances like Pride and Prejudice. (As an aside, I understand that the soundtrack for Jane Eyre was written by the same man who wrote the soundtrack for the recent version of Pride and Prejudice!  Although, it certainly has a darker and sadder tone than Pride and Prejudice does, so fans of that soundtrack might be a little disappointed.) 

My only restriction on recommending the movie is that it is PG-13 for some violence and blood (mostly just one scene, where someone is terribly injured and we see his bleeding wounds up close), and a brief moment with a nude painting on a wall (which, by the way, had nothing to do with the book).  So, I would not recommend the movie for younger viewers. 

P.S.  Part 2 of my book review on Sword in the Stars is still on its way!