Somebody who claims wisdom over such
matters asserts there have eighteen versions of Jane Eyre filmed since
film was invented. I shall not count them myself because number eighteen – the
transcendently romantic, tragic, gothic ghost story directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
with the captivating quartet of Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell and
Dame Judi Dench will forever be my Jane Eyre.
How many queer folks on the darkest
night of some impossible passion for some impossibly splendid beloved have not
wished that we could be as nakedly honest, bold and heartbreaking articulate as
the much abused young heroine created by Charlotte Bronte.
Romantic speeches for females don’t
get any better than the declaration of love and independence delivered by the
no longer meek, mild or compliant Jane (Wasikowska) to her once master but not
necessarily future husband Mr. Rochester (Fassbender).
“Am I a machine without feelings?
Do you think because I am poor, obscure, plain and little that I am soulless
and heartless. I have as much soul as you and fully as much heart. And if God
had blessed me with beauty and wealth I could have made it as hard for you to
leave me as it is for I to leave you. I am not speaking to you through mortal
flesh. It is my spirit that addresses your spirit as if we passed through the
grave and stood at God’s feet, equal as we are.”
“As we are.”
“I am a free human being with an
independent will which I now exert to leave you.”
“Then let your will decide your destiny.
I offer you my hand, my heart, Jane Eyre. I ask you to pass through life at my
side. You are my equal and my likeness. Will you marry me?”
“Are you mocking me?”
“Do you doubt me?”
Jane Eyre has always seemed
one of those great but remote and slightly dusty classics I could have
discovered at Long Beach, Long Island High School, but didn’t. Like the young
cinema devouring Martin Scorsese I could have watched Orson Welles woo Joan
Fontaine on the endless loop of New York Channel 9’s Million Dollar Movie, but
I didn’t. And, yes, I could, like the good British boy I was raised to be, have
lapped up the cold but edible supper of a Masterpiece Theatre version on
our beloved Channel 9, but I haven’t.
For those who haven’t brushed up on
their Bronte the story commences with the young Jane being cruelly bullied by
her evil mutant cousin, mistreated and consigned to a hell and brimstone god
factory boarding school by a coldhearted aunt – where (queer crib notes) she
forms an affection for another girl who dies next to her in an unheated dorm
room from one of those overly romanticized lung afflictions, that spinster
novelists were fond of conjuring in their own unheated Yorkshire bedrooms.
The adult Jane gets a stab at good
fortune when she’s hired to be the governess to a young French girl who’s the
ward of the mysterious and frequently absent lord of the manor, Mr. Rochester.
Late one night on an errand into town she accidentally spooks her master’s
horse causing a painful if not entirely cute meet. In subsequent days and
nights Rochester and Jane develop an intellectual intimacy wholly untypical of
this very rigid class bound society.
Screenwriter Moira Buffini and
director Fuckunaga (creator of horrifically moving border story Sin Nombre)
carefully dole out tiny but thrilling snippets of Jane’s life in a possibly
haunted castle – including the night a wounded and ravishingly beautiful young
nobleman is brought in for emergency medical treatment and the fateful night
when Jane saves Rochester from a fire enveloping his bedroom.
Jane’s path to
the altar is cruelly interrupted by circumstances in Rochester’s past and soon
the poor young woman is wandering in daze upon the moors where she is
discovered by a young preacher (Jamie Bell) and his sisters. Considered part of
this missionary family’s little coven, Jane’s good fortune continues with an
unexpected inheritance that prompts the young preacher to propose the kind of
cold, service to God marriage that Jane has secretly feared might be her fate.
This Jane Eyre avoids the
clichés of casting whereby Jane rejects a prune-faced old windbag of a
preacher. No, to reject the likes of Jamie Bell simply because of emotional
incompatibility is a big moment, but not a facile, preordained plot driven one.
We may question her judgment in the man department – what’s wrong with a cold,
god obsessed creature when he’s Jamie Bell – but all the more respect her
character and pull for her long odds with that Rochester guy.
In some peculiar way the modern
queer temperament contains more than a dollop of the Bronte sisters’ utopian,
pining for a love of equals DNA plus Charlotte may had a precognition that she
herself was ill-suited for the Nineteenth Century’s version of respectable
upper class nuptials: she died in childbirth in the first year of her marriage.
This Jane Eyre may have
taken over a century and half to reach us its unanticipated but oddly intended
audience, but don’t let laziness or the catty comments of certain mainstream
critics keep you away from sharing this sister’s journey to overcome the limits
of the flesh and luxuriate in the imperfect but beautiful love of kindred