“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
Yesterday I watched the 2011-adaptation of Emilie Brontë’s Jane Eyre, with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender as Jane and Mr. Rochester. Jane Eyre is one of those novels that defied my initial ambiguity and got a seat on my shelf of literary favorites.
Both Jane and Rochester are generally very unlikeable characters. In Jane’s own words she is plain, poor and obscure, while Rochester can neither be described as handsome nor polite, and is frequently shown to be harsh, rude and short tempered. So why do I, and so many others, like them so much? Perhaps it is their shortcomings that make them profound and appealing. That and the fact that they are so prone to self-punishment that they make you want to be on their side, even though you spend page upon page being annoyed at how blind they can both be to their surroundings.
“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal — as we are!”
The movie is far better than I had dared hoped for, especially in the way it stays true to the gothic parts of the novel. It avoids the pitfall of trying to make Jane look beautiful while hoping we wouldn’t notice, as most movie-versions do. A considerable task, considering the almost elfish beauty of Mia Wasikowska. I’m not sure if Michael Fassbender has it in him to look anything other than stunning, but he has got a certain crass arrogance to him that makes him fit the part.
“Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.”
So what makes this a love story I love more than any other? The fact that it is not really a love story at all (mostly). It is a story of integrity, of self-worth trumping passion. What makes Jane a truly remarkable character is the fact that she has been denied love through-out her life, by losing her parents and then her only friend, by being mistreated and then cast off by her only living relative. And then, when she is finally given the chance to love and be loved by Rochester, she turns down the offer to save her own sense of honor and self-worth.
It’s a novel that truly digs into the deeper layers of what makes a human being tick.
The movie adds to the novel through the most beautiful landscapes and music I have seen in quite some time. Violins follow both the storyline and the cinematography, as the camera sweeps across moors and fields, setting the mood with vivid as well as murky colors and deep shades. Fire and flames are a theme that is visible through-out the movie, and foreshadows the ending in a subtle way that is quite beautiful.
If you want to brew yourself a cup of scolding hot tea and watch a beautiful movie about tragic and strong characters this weekend, you should give this version of Jane Eyre a try. I’d say it’s worth it!