The movie begins with Jane (Mia Wasikowska) dashing across windswept moors. She is fleeing something dreadful and mysterious. Near death, she is taken in by a missionary, St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters (Holliday Grainger and Tamzin Merchant). Then unfolds her tale of a Dickensian childhood: Orphaned, abused and abandoned by a wicked aunt (Sally Hawkins), she is sent (or condemned, more like) to a dreary, sadistic Christian boarding school.
She reenters the world not a broken, trampled flower, but a strong-willed, independent young woman, who becomes governess to a young girl (Romy Settbon Moore) at remote, isolated Thornfield Manor – a foreboding Gothic house where things go bump in the night. She is welcomed by the chatty housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench), but the manor’s master, Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender), is an ill-tempered rake. Rochester, the story suggests, is a libertine, but he is darkly charismatic, and fascinated by the smart, spirited Jane.
Part brooding Gothic horror, part romantic comedy, part social critique, Jane Eyre is a complex and engaging tale with a lively, lovable feminist heroine at its center: Jane is passionate, brave, honest, humble, virtuous, bold, idealistic. She respects herself, no matter how she is buffeted and tossed about by cruel fate, and no matter that she has neither a fortune nor (we are told) beauty. (Mia Wasikowska is certainly not a plain Jane, although she’s pale and her hair is severe, and she carries herself as if she knows in a deep and satisfying way that her true beauty lies only within.) Jane believes in her own self-worth, which has made her a literary character beloved by generations. What does she see in the much-older Rochester? Danger, desire, darkness; but also something pitiable. Suppressed eroticism lurks around every shadowy corner of Thornfield. Something else lurks in Thornfield, too.
Jane Eyre dashes through the plot, as it must, but captures all the emotional turbulence, depth and nuance of the story – expressed in a sidelong glance, in a foggy day on the moor, in the darkly etched limbs of a barren tree. The sensuous cinematography by Adriano Goldman, which makes lovely use of natural light, is beautiful and moody, and reflects the volatility and emotional tumult in the differently wild hearts of disciplined Jane and intemperate Rochester. Jane Eyre is a story of wild romanticism and moderation, of passion and restraint, of love as a kind of madness, but also as emancipation. For Jane, who has nothing, freedom is everything, and love, which both liberates and binds, is dangerous and complicated indeed.
Syd’s pick: For more insights into eccentric privileged families, check out Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums
There’s a royal wedding happening soon – or so I hear; my invitation has apparently been lost in the mail. But it’s as good a reason as any to revisit The Royal Tenenbaums, a movie that has absolutely nothing to do with British monarchs. It does have an accountant in it (played by Danny Glover), which, Tax Day having just passed, is another good reason to watch. In truth, you don’t need any more reason to watch The Royal Tenenbaums than that it’s a weird and endearing film by Wes Anderson.
The Royal Tenenbaums is structured like a leisurely walk through a gallery filled with richly detailed miniature portraits of the various members of the Tenenbaum clan (Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson), a once-prosperous, now-declining New York family of eccentric neurotics. The portraits of these misfits – precocious geniuses and wilting hothouse flowers all – are strung together with the thinnest thread of plot, but it’s a thread spun of pure gold, unlike the tenuous familial bonds that unite the Tenenbaums. Less a drama than a family album, The Royal Tenenbaums is set in a Preston Sturges vision of a New York replete with brick mansions, swanky hotels and gypsy cabs, but the beautiful people are replaced by a bunch of oddballs.
Anderson’s affection for the Tenenbaums is revealed in his eccentric, unique, exquisitely off-kilter storytelling. Some strange chemical reaction occurs as the film is taken in: These poor, privileged people with their self-imposed agonies and ennuis become strangely lovable. There’s no particular catalyst; it’s everything together. It’s in the incisive, intelligent script. It’s in the obsessively detailed design of the somewhat-shabby Tenenbaum home, a time capsule filled with childhood relics. The threadbare souls of the formerly brilliant Tenenbaums are reflected in all those intricately collected, frayed-around-the-edges pieces that make up their strangely inviting dollhouse environment.
@ Syd M