Over the past few years we’ve seen a lot of re-imaging of classic British novels looking to perk up the stodgy old genre with sex and gore. From the work of Seth Grahame-Smith and Ben H. Winters (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters) to the upcoming Catherine Hardwicke Twilight-inspired Red Riding Hood, geek culture is being told that these old classics can be an awfully lot cooler by exchanging the lovey-dovey romance and stuff with unadulterated sex and thrills.
Cary Fukunaga’sJane Eyre seems to be a part of this new trend. The sixteenth feature film version of Charlotte Brontà«’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 to 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 true to its source while capturing a tone that may be new, but is completely engrossing. While the trailer may slightly overplay the ghost-story presence of the film, 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 sexifying 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. She is able to be damaged and plain while having an allure that must grab the attention of Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender).
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 also 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 its inability to successfully set up some of the character relationships. Not being acquainted to the story previously, the two main love relationships feel rushed over, especially the dynamic between Jane and St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell), who are to have this brother-sister bond. But, for a film that could mostly hinge on its love triangles, the moodiness thankfully takes the center stage and is the driving force behind its impact. This tone may be too much for casual viewers, especially considering its bleakness over its entire run-time, but it played wonderfully for me.