Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Film

‘You transfix me, quite’: late thoughts on Jane Eyre

by Bethanie Blanchard , September 22, 20118 Comments

 

The transposition of a novel to screen always has an odd effect, like seeing a painted portrait move. There’s the vexed question of whether to judge the film on its own merits or in the fidelity to which it accurately translates the essence of the tale, especially one as well loved and well known as a Bronte novel. Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation cleverly works around this problem of familiarity by beginning in medias res and telling the story through flashbacks – giving a disorienting newness to a familiar tale.

What filmic translations of period novels do particularly well is evoke a sense of an era – more potently perhaps than we could ever achieve alone – with sumptuous costumes and period setting. Fukunaga’s film does this beautifully, all wuthering moors and chiaroscuro interiors.

To condense a novel down to film means we necessarily lose parts of the work – but this adaptation feels at times like a SparkNotes guide. Many of the most important scenes are hurried. Though the film lingers on shadowy rooms and lots of running across moors in billowing capes, all the most important moments in the plot – especially those between Jane and Rochester – are too fleeting.

Rochester is that particular breed of smouldering alpha-male – strong, brooding, looks fantastic on a horse – who would be awful if he were your actual boyfriend, but great in prose form. What makes him attractive is a passionate, fiery intensity. Yet there is a distinct lack of passion between the two leads (something of a cinematic feat considering Rochester is played by Michael Fassbender). The famous proposal scene – a culmination of hundreds of pages of yearning in the novel – when it occurs here, evokes more a reaction of surprise than romantic catharsis.

It is the nature of the medium that a film cannot portray interiority as effectively as a novel – but this is a story entirely about interiority. Though Jane and Rochester barely speak, their romance smoulders away in the novel for hundreds of pages.

Yet to reduce the book to just two hours, and focus only on exteriority, means that certain truths in the plot become more apparent, placed as they are upon the barest of cinematic bones. Perhaps unintentionally, this film reveals a truth about the story better than the novel itself.

One of the fascinating things about Jane Eyre – both novel and film – is the way in which Jane is irresistibly attractive to the men she comes into contact with as an adult. She receives proposals from both Rochester and St John Rivers, but she does and says very little (and she sure as hell isn’t winning them over with her hairstyle).

Jane and Rochester actually have very little contact in the novel. Rochester knows almost nothing about Jane – but in the end, he loves her precisely because he doesn’t really know anything about her at all.

What Jane does that is so alluring, it seems to me, is to simply be a mirror for every man she comes into contact with. She has an uncanny ability to reflect back to men the best version of themselves. Jane isn’t a ‘machine without feelings’ but she is as cool and glassy as a mirrored surface. Rochester is indeed ‘transfixed’ by Jane, but it is his own image he is transfixed by.

This makes Rochester’s blindness all the more brilliantly and sadistically ironic, as he now must rely wholly on Jane’s sight. He is quite literally transfixed by her – existing forever within her perception.

Jane Eyre is, in many ways, a flawed film. But this small aspect – however unintentional – made it a rather illuminating translation of the work.

– Bethanie Blanchard is a Melbourne writer and literature PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne.




8 thoughts on “‘You transfix me, quite’: late thoughts on Jane Eyre

  1. I liked this article (and I liked the film too actually) especially your comments about Jane’s reflective nature. I was struck by that too when St John claims that they are exactly alike when clearly they share very little in common. It wasn’t something I remember noticing so much in the book, probably because there you had the hundreds of pages of jane’s thoughts and feelings to “distract” (for want of a better word) you.
    I do disagree about the lack of smoulder between Jane and Mr Rochester though. Come on! At the end! The amazing transformation of Mr Rochester into Hottest Hipster circa 1849? Yowza.

  2. It’s funny, I saw this first at the Film Festival, and enjoyed it but wasn’t blown away. But upon a second viewing, having re-read the book in the interim, I really liked it a lot. The thing is, most of the build up to that famous proposal scene is in Jane’s head. She alludes to conversations between her and Rochester, but you don’t hear very many directly. I think even in the book it’s a surprise when he proposes, from Jane’s perspective at least. It’s hard to separate our knowledge and expectations of this novel and romance novel in general, from Jane’s character.
    Anyway, I remember thinking in my first viewing of this film, during the bed-on-fire scene, ‘oh sif she hangs around in his room and they have word-sex like that, pff stupid Hollywood’ but then I re-read and, well, it’s pretty accurate to the spirit of the scene. I think I forgot just how much sex there is in the book. Not explicit, but still tangibly there, again and again.
    And it is a beautiful adaptation, a beautiful film. You fall in love with Thornfield, which is important.
    Oh, but last point, in both screenings I attended, almost the entire audience gasped when the shot of Thornfield burned down came on screen. AND when it was revealed that Rochester is already married. WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE WHO DO NOT KNOW THE MOST WELL-KNOWN PLOT TWIST IN THE HISTORY OF THE WESTERN WORLD!?!?
    End rant.

  3. What a wonderfully leaden article. Sure, it’s not quite as bad as the unbelievably laboured piece in the first issue on ‘The Wire’, but, really, KYD editors what were you thinking here?!?

    ‘A rather illuminating translation.’ Sigh.

    What does the ‘rather’ add to this sentence apart from…unnecessary length? ‘Cool and glassy as a mirrored surface’ (i.e. as a MIRROR, perhaps the very same mirror which was mentioned two lines earlier and which haunts this review like a laboured simile…)

    Worst of all, why is ‘transfixed’ in scare-quotes if the comparison is meant LITERALLY? I mean, you’re saying ‘he was transfixed’ (for the second time). But this time, apparently, you mean it literally. (Or, rather, ‘quite literally’) But, no, it has to be ‘transfixed’ as if the reader were in danger of taking something avowedly literal as if it were…er… literal.

    Sleeping editors is the dominant motif here, i.e. the editors were, quite literally, “asleep”. [sic]

  4. Hello Alberto,

    By way of introduction, I’m the Online Editor at KYD.

    Thanks for your comments.

    I disagree with you about ‘rather’ being superfluous in ‘a rather illuminating translation’. It’s clear that the author has reservations about whether this iteration of Jane Eyre is insightful, and she uses ‘rather’ to modify ‘illuminating’ – that is, it’s only illuminating to a certain degree.

    I appreciate that you find the repetition in ‘mirror’/’mirrored surface’ unnecessary, but again, I disagree with you. By suggesting that Jane is ‘cool and glassy as a mirrored surface’, the author is elaborating on why she is comparing Jane to a mirror, and strengthening the comparison – Jane is not only reflective, but also calm and inert.

    I do agree with you that ‘transfixed’ should be taken out of quotation marks in its final appearance here – an oversight on my part. I’ve now made this change.

    Thank you for reading. We welcome further constructive comment at Killings as long as it is respectful.

  5. You say that “Rochester knows almost nothing about Jane – but in the end, he loves her precisely because he doesn’t really know anything about her at all”.

    Surely the whole point of the attraction is loving Jane’s character and personality regardless of facts about her past? Rochester tells Jane that it is her spirit, will and energy and purity that he wants not just her brittle frame.

  6. Alberto – thanks for your comments. Estelle has addressed many of your concerns, but to go some way to explaining my own choices in this piece:

    The ‘rather’ in ‘rather illuminating translation’ was not intended for unnecessary length but to qualify ‘illuminating translation’.

    ‘Transfixed’ was not scare-quoted, it was simply a direct quote from Rochester in the film (used in the title of this piece). The marks were a citation – standard practice for direct quotes from sources.

  7. Thanks Kate and Zora. I’m still not convinced about the smoulder! However, this section is very, very smouldery: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7_uNOTpG5Y

    It is indeed a very beautiful film – it actually reminded me a lot of Campion’s ‘Bright Star’ – even the score was similar. The film felt to me like a portrait – beautiful to look at but lacking interiority. As you say Kate, without the hundreds of pages of Jane’s thoughts and yearning, the romantic outcomes feel strange and unexpected.

    Ha Zora I agree it’s such a well-known plot twist – but that’s why I felt Fukunaga’s decision to begin toward the end and tell the story through flashbacks was so clever. Maybe it just worked TOO well on that audience?!

  8. I too found it quite reminiscent of ‘Bright Star’. ‘Jane Eyre’ is obviously a greater work in its totality, a greater story, but for my money ‘Bright Star’ is a much more successful film – probably because it was based on a biography, not adapted from a novel, and thus didn’t have to figure out how to do without hundreds of pages of interior insight.

    Having said that, I did enjoy Fukunaga’s ‘Jane Eyre’. And I disagree with you about the smouldering.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

money

David Donaldson

When does lobbying become corruption?

Whether it’s Clive Palmer buying his way into parliament, the recent, varied ICAC revelations of dodgy fundraising in the NSW Liberal party, or the refusal or inability of successive governments to effectively tackle powerful corporate interests in industries like gambling, mining, media, and junk food, there is a feeling among many Australians that democracy is up for sale. Read more »

only-the-animals-book-cvr

Claire Hielscher

A joyous deception: Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals

In visual art, the compulsion to surrender to the belief you are falling either into or out of an image is known as trompe-l’oeil, French for ‘deceive the eye’. Ceridwen Dovey’s story collection Only the Animals encourages a comparable state of joyous deception. Read more »

9781555976712

Carody Culver

Everybody hurts: Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams

There’s a difference between identifying someone’s malady – or lack thereof – and understanding their experience of it. To what extent can we truly imagine being in another person’s skin? Read more »

1560682_10153899026420591_499501666_n

Eli Glasman

Just a number: The literary world’s obsession with age

I used to be obsessed about what age I would be when I had my first novel published. I’d go on the Wikipedia pages of every famous writer I could think of to check how old they were when their first book came out. Read more »

blue-ombr-speckle-liner

Julia Tulloh

From the outside in: the beauty vlogger phenomenon

A current cohort of beauty bloggers are helping to break down distinctions between internal and external expressions of self in ways that allow them to generate new ideas of beauty on their own terms, rather than according to society’s expectations of what women (or men) should look like. Read more »

The Tunnel TV review

Julia Tulloh

The Tunnel vs The Bridge: The ethics of TV remakes

A body is found in the Eurotunnel, neatly laid across the border between France and England. When police attempt to move the body, it splits in two with the top half in France and lower half in England. Read more »

1398878478_lea-michele-brunette-ambition-zoom

Julia Tulloh

How to be beautiful, according to Lea Michele

Lea Michele’s new book, Brunette Ambition, is what you might expect from a fairly young television and musical theatre star. Read more »

stepup5poster

Anthony Morris

Let’s Dance: unapologetic repetition and Step Up: All In

A franchise of movies based entirely around good-looking people performing unlikely and oddly aggressive dance moves wouldn’t seem to require heavy continuity – or any continuity at all – but Step Up: All In is surprisingly effective. Read more »

lead_large

Rochelle Siemienowicz

On Boyhood, parenting and the passing of time

Since its premiere in January at the Sundance Film Festival, film critics have been falling over themselves to lavish love upon Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Read more »

wetlands_poster

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Lucky Dip Diving: an approach to film festivals

I wanted to let go of the grasping desire to watch everything and be part of every conversation. But with the Melbourne International Film Festival in full swing, anxieties arise again. Read more »

Streisand_Estate

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Don’t Look: The emergence of Streisand criticism

In the wake of the recent nude celebrity photo leak, I noticed something strange about the ways different publications skewed their coverage. Tabloid-style publications tended to be honest about their motives. The behaviour of left-leaning broadsheet-style outlets, however, was more complex. Read more »

owl1

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Speaking with pixels

On the Facebook Newsfeed, it’s now possible to click a tiny smiley face inside almost any textbox to bring up a series of thumbnail images: an alligator bawling into a tissue, say, or a whistling fox dropping a turd, or a green owl vomiting rainbows. Read more »

hbo-silicon-valley

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Silicon Valley will eat itself

At a certain point in the lifespan of any subculture, fiction and reality start to blur. Members of the subculture begin to model their character and appearance on the idealised representations of themselves they read about or see on screen. Read more »

Inky Awards

Danielle Binks

By teens, for teens: the Inky Awards

The Centre for Youth Literature’s Inky Awards are amongst the most important book awards in Australian literature. Read more »

9780987507013

Review: The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew

This is a coming out story but one that desperately needed to be told on two counts – one because it’s an Australian YA coming-out story, and two because it’s a coming-out story about a young man questioning his homosexuality alongside his Jewish faith. Read more »

Untitled

Danielle Binks

How to buy books for young adults

‘Excuse me, where are the boys’ books? I’m looking to buy for a 16-year-old.’ When I overheard this question while browsing in a bookshop recently, I felt insta-rage. Read more »

free-u2-album-on-itunes

Chad Parkhill

The Perpetual Undeath of Rock

 ‘Hey hey, my my, rock and roll can never die.’ Depending on your own tastes and cognitive biases, Neil Young’s famous lyric will now seem more prophetic than ever before – or profoundly misguided. Last week saw the release of U2’s Songs of Innocence in what Apple … Read more »

arthur-russel-beckman

Chad Parkhill

Calling out of context: The perennial appeal of Arthur Russell

When Arthur Russell died in 1992 at the age of forty, he did so in relative obscurity, having released four commercially unsuccessful albums and granted a single print interview: not exactly a promising oeuvre on which to build a legacy. Read more »

Jabberwocky1

Chad Parkhill

The carnival is over

Jabberwocky, scheduled to take place last weekend, was the kind of festival that wasn’t supposed to fail. Read more »

please-like-me

Stephanie Van Schilt

Mental illness and Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me

While the jury is still out on the success of Please Like Me’s efforts to address ideas around mental health, the discussions both its seasons have provoked and continue to encourage are incredibly important. That, I definitely like. Read more »

DP

Stephanie Van Schilt

Idle hands and Devil’s Playground: Going to the movies to watch TV

I recently went to the movies to watch TV. I bid a reluctant farewell to the comforts of my couch and heater and ventured into the frosty evening in search of Devil’s Playground. Read more »

2014-07-03-theleftovers

Stephanie Van Schilt

TV pilots: The good, the bad and The Leftovers

With the wealth of shows on offer, committing to a new TV series can feel like a big deal. It’s often during a pilot episode that audiences determine whether the program is appealing enough to stick with for the long haul. Read more »