There is something unsettling about a womans direct gaze, one that is engaged, attentive, but unsmiling. One that neither dissembles, nor attempts to disguise the intelligence of the viewer. Disconcerting now, in the early Victorian age in which JANE EYRE is set, its positively revolutionary. In the person of Mia Wasikowska, it’s a thoroughly modern image, clothed though it is in period costume and manners. This incarnation of Charlotte Brontes classic heroine is true to the time in which she lives, but the lack of submission to the mores of her time makes her a character that transcends that time, and perhaps even her gender in her determination to never settle for what others deem her due. As Jane, plain, small, and poor, this Jane has a strength of will that is not assertive, but certainly anything but passive.
This adaptation, like Wasikowskas performance, breathes new life into the well-known proto-Gothic tale. Screenwriter Moira Buffini has re-imagined the timeline, starting with the day in Janes life when her life crumbles and she is wandering the moors in a state of shock. Taken in by the St John Rivers (Jaime Bell) and his sisters, the film then unfolds with flashbacks to the vindictive, cold aunt who sent her away to the boarding school with a body count, the first glimpse of her new life as a governess at Thornwood, and the fateful first meeting with Thornwoods master, Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Interspersed are intimations of the fragility of life in this time, and of the denizens fearful preoccupation with the world of spirits which lies just beyond this one.
Spare and direct, like Jane herself, this is a love story of two people who are socially unequal, but in character, perfectly matched. The verbal sparring is polished, using authentic prose, dense but not flowery, and though Jane has the strength of steel, she is also in this telling painfully young in comparison to Fassbenders Rochester. He is not brooding dream of romance, but a difficult man, whose mercurial side is emphasized, but Fassbender finds the psychic pain that manifests in vitriol. That Jane is not cowed by him, but rather fascinated, becomes an active part of their story, making logical all that follows.
Wasikowska plumbs and uses many layers of Janes personality. Self-sufficient after a life of rejection, that has become an almost violent desire for freedom and a wrenchingly tender capacity for optimism. The way she looks with carefully controlled wonder at her comfortable quarters at Thornwood and the wondering acceptance of the gentle warmth Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench) and Adele show her. Her pleasure as she runs her hand along the finest dress she has ever owned when it is presented to her is silend, but the inner dialogue in palpable.
This is the finest filmed version of JANE EYRE to date. It doesnt matter if the audience knows how the story will end, the emotional journey is thrilling, abetted by direction by Cary Fukunaga that homes in on the complex inner lives of the character. Its true to the Gothic spirit of the book with its startling and emotionally compelling Jane. From the sharp and jarring sound of Janes head being slammed against a window frame by her cousin when shes a child, to the freezing mud of a north country moor as Jane faces the very real possibility of freezing to death, this is a Victorian age stripped of its romanticism. In its stead is passion.