måndag 9 april 2012

Jane Eyre revisited, part 2

Mia Wasikowska as the 12th Jane.
There is no broken veil scene in Cary Fukunaga's version of Jane Eyre. On the extra material on the dvd, the scene is there, sure enough, beautiful and haunting, making a clear connection between the genre of the gothic novel that Jane Eyre both belongs to, and moves away from, and also showing us the first Mrs Rochester in all her despair: She was once too, a hopeful bride...

In the final film, we don't see her, the woman that Mr Rochester has hidden away in the attic, with the feeble excuse that at least, he didn't send her to an asylum (but is that place really any better?), until after the broken wedding, when it is made clear that Mr Rochester cannot marry Jane. Berta Mason Rochester is still a beautiful woman, but wild and dangerous, and that is why she has to be locked up and hidden from the world.

Does Jane realize, at that moment when she finally sees the first Mrs Rochester, that she could be treated the same way, if she doesn't behave? Or maybe, I hope, she thinks that she has already been there, and survived. She has spent eight years in a school for girls that was very much like a prison. Or a purgatory. And she survived it, making her strong enough to survive anything else that might be just as difficult.

The word "difficult" makes me stop for a moment. I heard it yesterday, in a very different kind of film, although it too was about women surviving in a man's world. (Ok, that was very broad - what film isn't?) The film was the Sarah Jessica Parker-movie called I don't know how she does it. It was a really sweet film about a career woman played by Parker who juggles career and private life with a sweet husband and two sweet kids, a boss who doesn't care about family, co-workers who either are trying hard to be dicks or robots, and a new collegue, played by Pierce Brosnan, who sees all the right possibilities in Parker's lovable and capable character. It's really a great little film for its focus on hope to all women out there in the audience: Yes, it is possible to love your work and love your family!
Sarah Jessica Parker gets friendly advice.
Well, there is a friend in there, who is a redhead and single mum, who talks to the camera, giving us the clues that we might not get if we were not told about them. And one of the things she says is that being "difficult" is something that has to be avoided at all costs, as being difficult is being everything that is not a "man". It's a bit corny but it works. I loved that movie.

Sadly but evidently, we are still much in the hands of the males controlling everything, and if we want to play with them, we have to make sure we appeal to them.

Jane makes an impression on the disturbed Mr Rochester because she is not afraid. She even says it, straight to his face, on one of their first encounters. (On their very first one, she shows it, when Mr Rochester nearly runs her over with his horse.) Still, everything about Mr Rochester is frightening, and she knows it. Why does she fall in love with him? That is something that has always intrigued me. In the now classic analysis of the gothic romance story, there is the idea of the woman saving the man with her love. But from what? And does he really deserve her love?

In this film, there is a moment when one almost hopes that things will take another turn, when the nice Mr St John asks Jane to follow him to India, as his wife. Her answer is almost fierce, as if she was mad at him for asking. She insists on calling him a brother, nothing else. He suggests love may not be between them but that it will come, after they're wed. This upsets her even more. Jane is really the faithful type, the one who gives her heart once, and never more. So she has to wait for Rochester and luckily for her, Bertha decides she has to end it all - to make way for Jane? And Rochester turns blind, which will probably milden his manner and make him a more humble husband to Jane.

Jane Eyre saying no.
As I said, this film eludes the famous veil scene, but in return does marvels with other unexpected things, that I haven't seen in other film versions. For instance, there is the scene by the window, which I don't remember from the book and might have the script writer Moira Buffini to thank for its existance. Jane is standing by one of Thornfield's windows, and Mrs Faifax comes to remind her that tea is ready:

”I am not in need of tea, thank you” says Jane, rather rudely. But Mrs Fairfax is not easily put off. Maybe she has even been there herself, staring out of the windows of Thornfield Hall. She is after all a relation to Mr Rochester.
The windows are large, small panes of glass inside heavy frames. Outside, the sun is setting. Mrs Fairfax says:

”It’s a quiet life here, isn’t it? … This isolated house. A still doom for a young woman."
Jane looks irritated, as if she doesn't agree. She answers her with quiet rebellion:

“I wish a woman could have action, like a man. It agitates me to pain that the skyline over there is over our limit. I long somtimes for a power of vision that would overpass it. If I could behold all I imagine… I’ve never seen a city. I’ve never spoken with men and I fear my whole life will pass.
Jane turns and faces Mrs Fairfax, who answers without malice:

"Now, exercise and fresh air…"
This scene comes directly after a series of pictures showing Jane tutoring Adèle. They are in a big library. Jane and Adéle in deep concentration, pressing flowers, bent over an atlas, discovering the world together. Then they sit together on the floor, bent over a large book with a magnifying glass. Jane is telling Adéle about some kind of demon in animal form. Adéle gets scared, and Jane, dead pan, just says "It's just a story". Then Adèle tells Jane a story: about the woman who lurks around the house after dark. She stands with her back to a large doll house, where we can clearly see a doll with black hair, staring out of one of the windows. Adèle is embellishing her story now, making the woman look like Snow White, a Snow White with fangs, like a vampire.
”What nonsense” says Jane, who, as we know, is not easily scared.
Then the camera pans delicately past a church yard. We're watching Thornfield Hall from a distance, from the home of the dead, crosses seen close up. Then we're back inside, with Jane, looking out at the vast and lonely landscape, and wondering how her life would have been, if she had been a man. And there is the scene with Mrs Fairfax.
A woman is doomed to a life inside houses. She can be a wife, a house keeper or a governess, but she will always have to live inside a house, like a prisoner. This scene also reminds me of other scenes where women are being trapped by window panes. One is Jane Wyman in Douglas Sirk's Magnificent Obsession.  

But maybe I can offer a slightly different view: For the first time in her life, Jane is free to do what she likes inside a house. She can explore it, use its books, and she is being treated with kindness and respect. When she is ready, she is let out, to start exploring the world. That is when the scene with Mrs Fairfax appears in the film, and it is Mrs Fairfax who suggests that she takes a walk, taking the letters to the mail. And that is when she meets Mr Rochester for the first time. And Jane, who has been battling her fears all her life, finally stands in front of her life's biggest challenge: a man who frightens her but who loves her.

I think this film version of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre is rather wonderful. Don't you? 

Judi Dench showing the way.

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