Adaptation succeeds in as many ways as it fails.
Adapting Jane Eyre for the big screen is no easy charge — just ask one of the more than 18 directors who have previously attempted it. The latest to have a go at Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 novel is Cary Fukunaga, who approaches the novel with reverence, though in fitting the film into a two–hour time frame, shows some lack of judgment in deciding what to excise.
As most who will go to see the film already know, Jane Eyre (Wasikowska) is a governess with a woeful past who finds solace in Thornfield Hall — the estate of the ill–humored and mysterious Edward Rochester (Fassbender). It’s not long before the two brooding souls are drawn to one another, forming an intense relationship that blossoms into love. But something strange haunts Jane and Thornfield Hall itself — a secret that makes itself known to chaotic effect at the nuptials of Rochester and Jane.
Fukunaga begins the story in medias res, with the aftermath of the ill–fated nuptials constituting the ultimate framework of the film. The variation, which is Fukunaga’s most jarring departure from the source material, ultimately benefits the film by setting it apart from its predecessors and modernizing the story. Furthermore aiding the content of the film, this new approach also carries an emotional weight: when previously–seen scenarios are repeated, they are imbued with a new depth and the sort of sad sentimentality only made possible with hindsight.
Yet this progressive structure does nothing to quell the perpetual conflict in adaptations between time and patience. In certain instances, the film seems more concerned with clocking in at the allotted running time than with preserving the novel’s languid, yet effectively foreboding pace. Especially troublesome in terms of the relationships formed between characters, it is likely that motivation, and thus believability, will be lost on both fans of the novel and laymen alike.
The brunt of making the film’s central relationship convincing thus falls on the acting abilities of the film’s two leads. Wasikowska and Fassbender succeed in becoming Bronte’s immortal heroes, though neither actor is quite able to breathe new life into his or her character. Rather, it appears that the two are charged with bringing life to one another. When onscreen together, Wasikowska and Fassbender seethe sexual chemistry, which not only does justice to the narrative’s timeless love story, but also saves the film in its entirety from staleness.
Despite the film’s admirable achievements, it is hard to feel that something isn’t missing from Jane Eyre — something not easily definable, especially considering the film’s many merits— but which nonetheless amounts to the spark that could have propelled the film from a successful adaptation to a stand–alone masterpiece.
Directed by: Cary Fukanaga
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender
Rated PG–13, 115 min.