Jane Eyre

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Over the past few years we’ve seen a handful of classic British novels re-imagined for a younger audience with the requisite amount of sex and gore. From the work of Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters) to the upcoming Catherine Hardwicke Twilight-inspired Red Riding Hood, geek culture is told that these old classics are an awful lot cooler when exchanging the lovey-dovey romance for unadulterated sex and thrills.

Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre seems to be a part of this new trend. The sixteenth feature film version of Charlotte Brontë’s 17th Century novel follows a young orphan’s “tale of woe” from a family that doesn’t love her to her position as a governess for a mysterious man in a creepy old castle. Although I am in no way knowledgeable of the novel or any of the previous adaptations, I have been told that this is a “bold new vision for a beloved classic” — in other words, we’re going to make this better for you, young people.

Don’t be deceived by this train of thought. Jane Eyre is a film that is seemingly true to the source but captures a tone that, while fresh, is completely engrossing. The trailer slightly overplays the ghost-story presence of the film, but its dour mood and intensity are a great fit. There are many hints at the supernatural, but the film doesn’t make the mistake of sexing up the source just for the sake of sexiness — every choice the film makes is both believable within the story and helps enhance its world. Throw in well-trained, classy actors like Judi Dench, Michael Fassbender and Sally Hawkins, the film nails the look and feel of the time and place. The film’s star, Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, The Kids Are All Right) does her first capital-A-acting and she fits the character well by coming across damaged and plain while having an allure that must grab the attention of Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender).

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Still, the real star of the film may be its director, Cary Fukunaga. Only his second film, he previously directed 2009’s Sin Nombre, which follows a group of young Central Americans who ride trains through Mexico in hopes of crossing into America illegally. Jane Eyre seems to be an odd choice for his next film, and while the films don’t have a lot in common in terms of plot, they are both satisfying and beautiful dramas. Fukunaga’s vision is completely realized; there is no point where he doesn’t feel in control. He not only makes a beautiful character-driven period piece, but he has the chops to make an exciting genre film, as well. Considering his first two films, it is interesting to see where Fukunaga may go next — whether it be more toward the smaller drama that both Sin Nombre and Jane Eyre inhabit, or branching into full-fledged genre work. Fukunaga is definitely an exciting young filmmaker to keep on the radar.

If there is an obvious fault with the film, it is an inability to successfully set up some of the character relationships. Not being acquainted with the story previously, the two main love relationships feel rushed, especially the dynamic between Jane and St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell), who are supposed to have a brother-sister like bond. But, for a film that mostly hinges on its love triangles, the moodiness thankfully takes center-stage and is the driving force behind its impact. This bleak tone may be too much for casual viewers, especially considering it doesn’t relent the entire run-time, but it played wonderfully for me.

tags: jamie bell, jane eyre, judi dench, Mia Wasikowska, sally hawkins

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