First called a demon and then a witch, Jane Eyre, played by Mia Wasikowska (“The Kids Are Alright”), is an unfortunate girl. Orphaned as a child, she is forced to grow up in her wicked aunt’s house until she is eventually sent away to a corrective school meant to turn little girls into proper young governesses. There, she is tortured, beaten, starved and loses her only friend within a short amount of time — all conveyed in brief, painful flashbacks.
At the Michigan
This is arguably the largest change made in newcomer Cary Fukunaga’s adaption of the famed 19th century novel by Charlotte Bronte: It’s not told linearly. Rather, the film opens with Jane running for her life through the English countryside in the rain until she finds herself nearly dead on the stoop of a dreary house, where she will be nursed back to health and reflect on the events that brought her there.
Though some fans of the novel may be dismayed by the decision to play with time and reduce Jane’s entire childhood to such a short segment, it works well in the context of the movie. Splintering the past with the present gives the viewer a much stronger sense of how haunted Jane is and makes the film far more real. Looking drearily out the window, the audience receives startling insight into Jane’s mind with the sudden crack of a whip, causing that much more sadness when she later describes her tale as not being one of woe.
Of course, the heart of the film lies in the flashbacks to Jane’s time spent at Thornfield Hall, where she takes her first job as governess to a little French girl under the care of Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender, “Inglorious Basterds”), the master of the house. Tortured by their pasts, Jane and Rochester find kindred spirits in one another, until their brief bliss is complicated by the secrets lurking in the walls.
When dealing with a love as famous as that of Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, silver screen success all comes down to chemistry — and luckily for Wasikowska and Fassbender, they have it in spades. That first instance, when the two almost kiss in the middle of the night and Jane runs away, is met by a mutual groan from the entire audience. Maybe it’s because they know the history, but viewers can’t help but want them to be together from the moment the two first share the screen. It’s not necessarily that they are perfect together, but the opposite — it’s their mismatched outsider quality that makes their love so painstaking.
Also to the film’s credit is its artistic direction. From the candlelit walks set to haunting screams and banging walls to the terrifying animals that seem to pop out of nowhere, the film actually manages to be suspenseful. This is a welcome surprise for the old story, ultimately saving it from any potential boredom. These elements, in conjunction with the beautifully bleak settings, allow for Fukunaga to perfectly capture the novel’s gothic quality that is often overlooked by film adaptations, employing just the right amount of artistic liberty to make the story feel new again without sacrificing any of its original integrity.