Books-Into-Movie Commentary: Jane Eyre March 21, 2011Posted by rwf1954 in books, books into movies, Cary Fukunaga, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre, Moira Buffini, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Uncategorized.
Tags: book commentary, books into movies, Cary Fukunaga, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre, Judy Dench, Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Moira Buffini, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books
“Jane Eyre” the movie (2011) is a faithful, clever adaptation of Jane Eyre, the classic novel (1847). The filmmakers follow the basic storyline closely. I’ll discuss their approach to the story, which is different from the novel. I’ll then go over similarities and differences of note between the story told in the movie and in the book. Finally, I’ll finish with a brief synopsis of the book.
Story Approach. While the filmmakers retain the basic story, they shuffle the order of events by using a flashback technique. The movie starts toward the end of the story, with Jane Eyre wandering in the rain, penniless and homeless, fleeing from something (in the movie, we don’t know what), rescued by “St. John” Rivers and his sisters, unwilling to give her correct name. From there, we flash back to the beginning of the story. The novel starts with Jane Eyre’s childhood and moves forward with the chronology of the story depicted consecutively. Using this flashback technique adds suspense to a story that otherwise might be labeled as starting out slowly. The flashback technique is a clever device, successfully adding drama and mystery to the effect of the film. With acknowledgement of the flashback technique, we can then see the basics of the story are retained.
The flashback style does create one subtle change in the story, specifically with Jane Eyre’s character. In the movie, she seems more haunted by her past. This is a necessary by-product of the flashback technique. In the book, one of her distinctive traits is that she moves on with strength and dignity despite the adversity she faces.
Comments on story specifics.
- The movie is cast consistent with the book’s descriptions and depictions of the characters. Jane Eyre is not gorgeous—she has undistinguished looks. A prettier version of the Jane Eyre character would have changed one of the basic aspects of Brontë’s concept for this novel. Jane Eyre in the movie is direct and sincere. She never flinches from saying what a situation demands, regardless of the consequences. This is the Jane Eyre of the book, making her character likable, someone we want to watch.
- Jane Eyre’s aunt and male cousin are as despicable in the book as they are in the movie, including the scene of Jane Eyre clobbered in the face by her cousin, and the subsequent unjust reaction. In the movie, her aunt seems a little more repentant in their final scene together—in the book she confesses wrongs done to Jane Eyre, but seems to rationalize them.
- Lowood School’s depiction, including the severe Mr. Brocklehurst and the rigid austerity of the school, are consistent with the book. The death of Jane Eyre’s friend is also directly from the book. There are two deviations:
- There isn’t time to show the kindness of the head of the school, and the way Jane Eyre wins over authorities at Lowood. She ends up thriving there, becoming a teacher during her final years at the school.
- After the death of her friend Helen, and a number of other girls at the school due to a typhus epidemic, conditions at the school improve. It becomes widely recognized that poor diet and severe treatment of the girls was the cause of the epidemic, and this triggers the changes.
- The Edward Fairfax Rochester of the movie seems consistent with his depiction in the book, through the movie version may be a little better looking. Judy Dench is perfect as the housekeeper of the Rochester estate, Thornfield Hall. Adele, the ward of Edward Rochester, is also consistent with the character presented in the book.
- In the book, we have more about the mysterious Grace Poole, who Jane suspects as the one responsible for the violent acts at Thornfield Hall (the fire and the stabbing). The filmmakers offer less specifics in the movie, with Grace Poole barely mentioned at all. Adele does mention a mysterious woman who walks through the house at night, but this is not significantly developed.
- Edward Rochester’s sprained ankle after coming off his horse, with his later meeting with Jane Eyre at the house, is directly from the novel.
- Edward Rochester asks for Jane Eyre’s “tale of woe.” The fact that Jane Eyre refuses to tell a “tale of woe,” despite the adversity she faces, is what makes her character so compelling. This scene emphasizes the point, and is a crucial point of similarity between the book and the movie.
- Jane Eyre’s discovery of the fire, and rescue of Edward Rochester, are directly from the book.
- The tease that Edward Rochester will marry Blanche Ingram is also directly from the book. A strange scene with Edward Rochester disguising himself as a female gypsy fortuneteller is omitted. This seems a good choice. The Edward Rochester character dressed in drag trying to do a falsetto would have been comically absurd, and would have wrecked the tone of the movie.
- Richard Mason’s arrival, the “blow” referred to by Edward Rochester, and the subsequent stabbing and Jane Eyre’s help with the aftermath, are directly from the book.
- Edward Rochester’s proposal to Jane Eyre is directly from the book—maybe a little condensed, but the Edward Rochester dialogue in the book tends to run long. And, a solicitor does break into the ceremony, right at the moment when the minister asks if there is any impediment to the marriage, to tell of Rochester’s previous marriage.
- The movie spares us page after page of Edward Rochester begging Jane Eyre to stay with him. After a shorter effort to convince her to stay, Jane Eyre does leave Thornfield Hall (the only possible decision for this character) determined to start over. Because of the flashback technique, we are aware the marriage is not going to work and we wonder how it will be thwarted.
- In the book, Jane Eyre goes farther away than is apparent in the movie. This takes her to the point in the story where the film begins.
- Jane Eyre aka Jane Elliott runs the small school, as in the book.
- Jane Eyre inherits the fortune of her long-lost uncle, as in the book. In the book, she finds out she is related to “St. John” and his sisters (making the subsequent marriage proposal even more inappropriate). On the basis of that relationship, Jane Eyre shares the bequest. In the film, she “adopts” them and shares the bequest. The film version spares the audience suspending disbelief on the coincidence of Jane Eyre stumbling on relatives miles away from Thornfield Hall.
- “St. John” does propose to Jane Eyre, wanting her to go to India as a missionary’s wife. As in the book, she’s willing to go as a “sister” or “friend,” but she rejects the marriage proposal.
- The book ends as the movie does, with one huge discrepancy. Jane Eyre does come back to Edward Rochester and finds him blind, after his home has been burned and devastated, and his wife is now dead. Jane Eyre loves him regardless of his new circumstances and marries him without hesitation. But in the book, Edward Rochester regains his sight in one eye. That makes for a happier ending than the Jane Eyre in the movie, left with the blinded love of her life. We can ask, does it make much difference for this particular character?
If this book had been handled differently by the filmmakers, we could well have ended up with an English 19th Century “Mommie Dearest” on our hands. We would have “poor Jane Eyre,” almost comically put-upon from every side, suffering the injustices heaped upon her by caricatures of nasty, deficient people. But the potential “woe-is-Jane-Eyre” element of the novel is kept subservient to her strong, likable, even admirable character. The flashback mechanism injected into this story makes for a successful book-into-movie, while staying very close to the original story from the book.
Brief Synopsis. The novel starts with Jane Eyre as a child, staying with her aunt, who treats orphaned Jane Eyre with contempt and injustice, favoring her cousins, and unfairly labeling Jane Eyre as a deceitful, troubled child. Her aunt puts her in an austere charity boarding school.
After a rough start at the school, Jane’s hard work—and her courage to pick the right moments to stand up for herself—pay off as she starts to thrive. A typhus epidemic kills some students, and takes one of her best friends, but also results in improved conditions at the school. She ends up as a teacher, and at eighteen, secures a position as a governess/tutor for a wealthy young girl, a ward at the estate of a wealthy family.
Jane Eyre enters the service of Edward Fairfax Rochester, a wealthy man with the resources to travel and live pretty much as he pleases. Jane Eyre is hired to tutor Adele, the illegitimate daughter of one of Edward Rochester’s female friends (apparently not his own daughter). She handles the task with earnest dedication, serving effectively at her assigned job. When she first arrives, Edward Rochester is not on the premises. When he first arrives, he is a gruff, aloof and abrasive man, especially considering that his first meeting with her is out away from the estate where he falls off his horse and sprains his ankle.
Jane Eyre continues her efficient handling of her duties and service to the household. But strange events occur. A fire nearly kills Edward Rochester. A mysterious guest is stabbed nearly to death in the middle of the night. Jane Eyre aids in the handling of these events, and the relationship between her and Edward Rochester, though still servant-master, deepens. Affection develops between them. Suspicion for the events falls on the mysterious servant of the household, Grace Poole. Her role in the household is unclear to Jane Eyre, and with Grace Poole’s apparent connection to these violent events, she wonders why Edward Rochester does not act against Grace Poole.
It appears to Jane Eyre that Edward Rochester will marry Blanche Ingram, a woman of his class, an obvious match for him. Wedding preparations are underway. But Edward Rochester proposes to Jane Eyre! She accepts. At the ceremony, when the minister asks if anyone knows why Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester can’t be married, a solicitor speaks out. Edward Rochester is already married—to a deranged woman he has been keeping secretly at his house under the supervision of Grace Poole. It is Edward Rochester’s deranged wife who tried to burn Edward Rochester alive, and who stabbed the visitor, her brother. Edward Rochester begs Jane Eyre to stay with him. But she will not stay with a married man.
Jane Eyre takes whatever money she is owed and pays for passage on a coach as far a she can travel from Thornfield Hall. She ends up homeless, sleeping in the rain. Desperate, she approaches a home where she is admitted and gets food and shelter. She ends up teaching at the local school. “St. John,” the head of the household, is a serious Christian missionary, planning to bring his missionary work to India. He proposes to Jane Eyre, but she believes this is for convenience, not love, and she is not in love with him. She declines his proposal.
In a bizarre coincidence, Jane Eyre turns out to be related to the members of the household. An uncle of Jane Eyre’s dies, leaving her 20,000 pounds. She has never known her uncle, and feels the others should share in the bequest. She divides the money four ways.
Word comes to Jane Eyre that back at Thornfield Hall, a horrible fire has occurred. Edward Rochester’s deranged wife is dead, and he is now blind. Jane Eyre finally marries him—her love for him remains though his resources are reduced and his needs have dramatically increased. He gains sight back in one of his eyes, and they remain happily together.