An exhalation of breath in the frigid Yorkshire air; the evanescent heat dissipating into the cold and immediately retracting into stillness – such is the quality of Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre. The warmth goes as quickly as it comes, just as the flickering flames of a candle flee into darkened corners, but leave them just as fleetingly. That is not to say that such a nature leaves the film barren in any way – on the contrary, it lends an entirely new shift in the kaleidoscope of the themes interwoven throughout the novel, which should be the intention of any literary adaptation.

This particular adaptation takes ‘drama’ as its most minimal, primarily choosing not to speak through dialogue (however faithful it may be) but through the moments interspersed amongst the words (the gazes from the window, the empty rooms resounding with hushed silence). Fukunaga is elevated from status of filmmaker to that of craftsman of the art, for each scene is utterly perfect in visual intent, framed and composed with artistic purpose. This film reads as a series of Hammershøi paintings – muted blues and greys, and gorgeous full-length shots of Jane facing away from us. As such, this film becomes one of the most introspective ones in Eyre’s prolific adaptations for the screen. Unfortunately, this sense of introspection is lost in translation, and for those who have not read the novel (for shame!), the silences become lost opportunities for literal narrative, of which there is startlingly little.

There are more problems in the area of casting. Although Mia Wasikowska’s Jane is one of the finest to date, with her thoughtful demeanour and stoic suffering, the rest of the cast fares less well – in particular, Fassbender’s Rochester and Bell’s St. John Rivers. Both actors seem ill-cast for the roles, and is an utter shame, considering the caliber of these actors elsewhere. Fassbender’s Rochester seems intent on speaking through gritted teeth throughout, with little affective modulation. Contrary to Jane’s observation, he is rather less changeable than his character ought to be, instead opting for self-loathing and brooding for much of the film.< >Then of course, there is the centrifugal issue of his physical appearance – Fassbender is the very embodiment of ‘tall, dark, and handsome’, and so I could hardly contain my disbelief at Jane’s negative response to his query of “Do you think me handsome?” As such, the inconsistent characterization of Rochester bleeds over into that of Rivers. The very purpose of Rivers’ character is that of foil to Rochester – cold to hot, repression to passion. We see virtually none of Rivers’ defining characteristics in Bell’s version, thus making his proposal to Jane a bit of a shock. The actors’ portrayals of their characters may, on the surface seem appropriate, but if one were to question the characters’ motives deeper, their intrinsically flawed underdevelopment would interfere.

I shall not delve into other significant issues with the screenplay (only superficially introducing Blanche Ingram, the omission of Grace Poole, and the dire neglect of Bertha’s story), because I believe that most of these can be attributed to time constraints. With only a two-hour limit, it is understandable that much of the original complexity of the novel were sacrificed to adhere to the attention span of audiences. Nevertheless, such alterations only provide further justification for how Jane Eyre is virtually ‘un-filmable’.

In any case, this film adaptation casts JE in a different light from what we have seen in previous cinematic adaptations. This Jane is calmer, more thoughtful, and leaves more to silence than words; the final scene of the film is a magical testament to this. However, this tranquility comes at the expense of the novel’s manifesto of the passionate pursuit of life, and the Aristotlean struggle between passion and reason.

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