Saturday, April 02, 2011

movie notes. Jane Eyre

A few weeks ago, I went to see the newest film version of Jane Eyre with a fellow literature-geek friend. Both of us had read the novel as young girls (mine was a hardcover classic edition, one of a set that included Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein, and Walden. The last one doesn't quite go with the others). It surprised me how deeply the dialogue has sunk into my consciousness, how much I remembered of it. This is what happens with books that you have read many times, that you've loved for most of your life. The most memorable scenes remain the same from movie to movie, bringing them alive as they have been in your imagination for twenty years.

L. has seen every film version of Jane Eyre there is; I've seen most of them. There are a lot. The New York Times recently had an article explaining this: as costume dramas go, this one is relatively easy (that is, inexpensive) to produce. There aren't that many characters or houses to costume, unlike, say, Pride and Prejudice. It's a more sympathetic story than Wuthering Heights (everyone in that one is selfish, weak, batshit insane, or some combination of the three), and in this version, much funnier than I remember it being. L. and I giggled a lot, much more than we should have, I suspect.

If you think about it, Jane Eyre is the precursor to the modern romantic comedy: our hero and heroine have their "meet cute" when the latter startles the former clean off his horse. There is some bantering dialogue, the thrilling incident of his bed catching fire and her tossing a jug of water at him, their gradual falling in love, and the inevitable separation and ultimate reconciliation. There's a crazy ex (for him) and the seemingly perfect match who nevertheless isn't quite her soulmate (for her). There is tragedy and heartbreak - as Brenda Blethyn says on the commentary for Saving Grace, you've got to have drama to give the comedy its emotional weight - and, of course, a happy ending.

My favorite thing about this version of Jane Eyre is the luminous strength of Mia Wasikowska. She is not shy. She will not waver, will not break, will not give in, the most indomitable of Janes. She is not beautiful, only heartbreakingly young. Watching her impossibly slender figure walking away from Rochester and all he can offer calls to mind that line from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: "...they were made of thin invisible steel." I have never liked Jane Eyre so much before.

No comments: