Cary Fukunaga's 2011 "Jane Eyre" is a boring, dreary, monochromatic, misconceived botch. Fukunaga doesn't know who Charlotte Bronte is, but he sure knows his Igmar Bergman. He takes a wild, beloved and accessible book about a vibrantly alive girl and turns it into a pointlessly morose, dry and impenetrable film class experiment. One must ask: why was this film even made? There are so many adaptations of "Jane Eyre" out there, including a zombie version – made before the current zombie trend. Who felt a pressing need for a sotto-voce, mud-colored, depressive and anemic "Jane Eyre" without adequate lighting?
From the first scenes, watching this movie was tooth-grinding torture. Fukunaga's decision to make the film without lighting was a mistake. A dull, gray palette does not equate great art. If nothing else, "Jane Eyre" is one of the most colorful books ever written: there are physical fights, screaming mad women, burning castles, calculating belles, tortured and dying orphans, the reunion of long-lost relatives and long- lost lovers, psychic communication, murder attempts, big dogs, and fetching French dancing girls. There are profoundly poignant relationships, not just between Jane and Rochester, but between Jane and Bessie, a servant in her aunt's home, Jane and Helen Burns, a fellow orphan, and Jane and her student, Adele. You really can't film all that in an unlit, dun-colored setting with near-catatonic performances and expect to do it any justice at all. You are just torturing your material for no good reason, trying to turn "Jane Eyre" into something it is not.
Also, "Jane Eyre" is a *Gothic* novel. Gothic tales are supposed to be presented in a manner that is creepy, hair-raising, and over-the-top. There are scenes in "Jane Eyre" that cry out for expressionist lighting and ominous music – like in the 1944, Orson Welles / Joan Fontain version which, if nothing else, captured Jane's early years as an impoverished orphan, and the Gothic atmosphere, very well.
Jane Eyre, the book's eponymous heroine, is the reason to read the book. Scenes of the mistreatment of small children by callous exploiters are bearable because righteous and irrepressible Jane is your guide through all the bleakness, misery, and injustice.
"Jane Eyre" 2011 attaches leeches to this little firebrand and attempts to bleed her dry. In the opening scenes of the book, the reader immediately knows that this is one spunky heroine who, fist balled and spine stiff in the face of earthly power, will take the reader for a bumpy but unforgettable ride. Jane fights back. Jane demands respect. Jane stands up to everyone, from a cousin who beats her, to a rich aunt who controls her fate, to a sadistic manager of an orphanage, to her "master" at her first job. Jane never stops giving lip, standing up, insisting on the worth of one of the most wretched of the earth.
"Jane Eyre" 2011 opens with Jane sobbing and wandering aimlessly and prostrate on a rock. Why did Cary Fukunaga turn vibrant, feisty, colorful Jane Eyre into this limp, gray, pathetic loser? Was the real Jane of the book too much for him?
There's one good bit in this botch: Michael Fassbender is an excellent Rochester, one of the very best. Enjoying his performance got me through this film. Mia Wasikowska could have made for a very good Jane, but her performance, like the rest of the film, is drained of passion. It's as if Fukunaga instructed his performers to play every scene as quickly and flatly as possible: "Here you are asking her to marry you. Play it as if you are asking her which subway train goes uptown. And remember – you are distracted, not really present, and in a hurry." There's no feeling in anything here, and "Jane Eyre" is one of the most feeling books ever written. It is a deeply passionate book, and this film is as flat as cold as and as dry as the tundra. Tundras have some purpose, though, and I can see none for this film.