Cary Fukunaga has directed an ethereal version of Charlotte Brontë’s oft-adapted novel Jane Eyre. The film’s muted visuals convey the gothic story’s mystery while hinting at its internal passions.
Our heroine is Jane Eyre (Amelia Clarkson), whose childhood involves characters who resemble the grim child abusers of a Charles Dickens novel. The plot’s pace quickens once Jane reaches young adulthood (then played by Mia Wasikowska) and moves to Thornfield Manor, a forbidding castle surrounded by equally impressive grounds. There she encounters housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench) and begins tutoring the lord’s French ward Adele (Romy Settbon Moore). Mrs. Fairfax tells Jane that Lord Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender) has moods that are as unpredictable as his travels. Jane feels drawn to Rochester, even though she feels that the more she learns about him, the less she knows.
Here Jane’s renowned “plainness” comes from her soft features and downtrodden position. Wasikowska’s youth contributes to the character’s believable confusion and sexual curiosity. Most importantly, she conveys Jane’s stoicism, wisdom, and imagination. Fassbender’s Rochester is slightly frightening but magnetic, amusing, and acutely observant. He tells Jane that she is no more “naturally austere, any more than [he is] naturally vicious.” She is as sharp as he is, and correctly describes him as “the most phantom-like of all” her “unreal” experiences at Thornfield. Fukanaga brings out the novel’s poetic language, making mere exchanges of words more intense and erotic than many lovemaking scenes.
Inspired by Northern English folk music and gypsy fiddling, Daro Marianelli’s sweetly passionate score is haunting. Yet the film’s painterly aesthetic, from a stormy sunset to the resonant final image, is the movie’s most prominent aspect. While Fukunaga’s attention to historical detail lends a realistic rawness, the movie’s exquisite colors convey a fairy-tale-like quality, accentuating Rochester and Jane’s allusions to magic.
Thornfield is alternately beautiful and menacing. A naturally-lit nude painting evokes a sense both ominous and sensual, much like Jane’s attraction to Rochester. An individual who feels trapped is silhouetted against a window showcasing other worlds. Jane and Rochester are filmed outside in a way that makes them appear to be spirits of nature.
Wasikowska sometimes underplays the deceptively tame Jane, and Fassbender is occasionally too dramatic. On the surface, this is a straightforward if suspenseful adaptation of Brontë’s classic melodrama. But beneath is a rapturous, even transcendent tale.