Friday, September 02, 2011

JANE EYRE: MOVIE REVIEW


Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench, Jamie Bell, Sally Hawkins
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Runtime: 120 min.
Verdict: An interesting light and sound show.
Genre: Romance, Drama

        The opening shot is almost everything here. We read the title, written in a feeble font, and just for a moment we’re greeted with absolute darkness. A figure opens a door, Jane Eyre (Ms. Wasikowska) it is, and rather than let the light wash away most of the frame, it is strictly kept outside the door. Jane stands right on the edge, between the light in front of her and the darkness behind her, and she looks behind. She seems to be probably considering something, almost wanting to turn back into the darkness, and Mr. Fukunaga cuts most bluntly to Jane running away. It is a most appropriate formal choice, reflecting Jane’s predisposition for conscience over emotion.
        Jane and Edward (Mr. Fassbender) could be the principal star-crossed figures in Jane Eyre, but quite a lot of their relationship is borne out of a fascinating and sometimes amusing interplay between light and darkness caused by Mr. Fukunaga, and sometimes the viewer might be led to wonder if this photoplay were the one deciding the fate of this romance. It is light (and all the stuff it symbolizes) that Jane seeks all her life, and Mr. Fukunaga seems to make that somewhat of a motif. Candles and lamps are often discreetly placed, and figures arranged around them so as to provide for a natural affinity to light and heighten the spooky nature of the proceedings. And at other times, characters sit around the fireplace to reveal the real person behind each other’s façade, which is so conveniently worn around in the softness of daylight. Oh, truth be told, all this peripheral darkness provides for a fantastic blocking device, ratcheting up the tension, and then contrasting it with the daylight where all of it is mostly diffused.
        Yet, for a most meticulously designed film as this, where the lighting mutes the colors to provide for a more modest period, and where the figures often seem to be compromising their three-dimensionality and receding into a painting, there’s a curious aspect to these opening few frames. We see Jane running and there’s a little red bag in her hands. We notice it mostly because it pretty much stands out against the dullness of the colors.

Strangely in the subsequent images the bag is gone, and never do we see it again. Not until Mr. Fukunaga revisits the same situation. And it is not for the first time Mr. Fukunaga plays around with the temporal nature of his situations, letting the photoplay cause the story and its themes. He employs cuts from scene to scene just as he would within a scene, and that sort of merges the time within a particular event, say for instance Jane’s stay at St. John’s place. In fact, he restructures the entire thing in a way so as to let light (projector? Monitor? ) disperse the darkness, the personal demons as Edward puts it, and guide (rekindle) the romance. Back to the case of the missing bag, though. It is jarring, and its implications as far as a character sketch (another motif) is concerned are probably immense. Leaving with a bag often displays a sense of maturity, a sense of what one needs, and if one runs away with nothing, it mostly comes across as some sort of a misadventure on a kid’s part, or something far more sinister. Maybe the bag has been left someplace, and we never know. We never get our answers, and a continuity blunder seems like the most obvious explanation. My reading? Let the bag be.
        Sound is intended to play a supporting character here (a shorthand for emotion), unnecessary for the most part, and in a sequence of great artifice where Jane and Edward meet for the first time, we do not hear the horse steps as they arrive but we do as they leave. Jane Eyre would have been a terrific silent, and Mr. Fukunaga’s endeavor to spook us with sounds of whispers and laughter are no more than useless distractions. It is light that Jane seeks, her principles and always her principles, and in a moment of utter convenience intended to resolve the plot and provide for the obligatory warm ending, Mr. Fukunaga unleashes another of those ridiculous whispers and let Jane follow them back to her Edward. There are the remains of fire having played its part and resolved the dilemma that was hurting Jane’s conscience. All ends well, beautifully warm and romantic, caused by some super performances that are sure to be forgotten when we are at the year-end party. My eyes were a little moist too. And a little thought was nagging me. Nagging me, because the fire resolved it all far too conveniently. Maybe my thoughts would be better served, or too better served, in a Christopher Nolan picture. Meanwhile, Mr. Fassbender is my choice to be cinema’s new Alain Delon. He is pure class.

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