A young lady with a stern, hard look on her face leaves a large stately manor. She makes her way into the rain-soaked fields that stretch on as far as she can see. Soon, she can no longer hold back her tears and they stream down her cheeks while she forges ahead toward an unknown destination, an undetermined future. On the surface, the introduction to Cary Fukunaga’s second feature, and first major production, “Jane Eyre”, based on the Charlotte Brontë classic, can come off as dramatic, even overly so. Fortunately for him though, the woman walking this mile in Jane Eyre’s shoes is Mia Wasikowska and it is clear from one look at her that if anyone possesses the resolve to bear the burden of Eyre’s hardships, she does.
There is a particular brand of period piece that always seems to feature women who just don’t fit into the molds society expects they should. Jane Eyre, taken in as a child by her aunt (Sally Hawkins) after her parents passed, has never been looked upon as though she matters. She has always been plain in the face and difficult to control, which renders her somewhat useless, as the only purpose a woman held at the time was to be married off. An uncontrollable tongue needs at least be camouflaged by a pretty face to make it worth the trouble. She grows up surrounded by attempts to make her conform but emerges from the torture triumphant when she pursues a position as a tutor to a young girl who comes from reasonable means. While she continues to be reminded of her place in her new surroundings, she also finds herself the object of affection of the master of the house, Mister Edward Rochester (the strapping, sturdy Michael Fassbender). No one has ever loved her before and suddenly her years of abuse endured show their far reaching ramifications.
Fukunaga entered the world film scene with his brilliant immigration drama “Sin Nombre” in 2009. His eye for understated beauty and sensitivity shown to character in that film are put to great use in “Jane Eyre”. Like his heroine, the sets and costumes are all spectacular but matted as not to overwhelm. Instead, they are further appreciated for their restraint and delicacy and the same can be said of the entire cast, led by another surprisingly potent performance by Wasikowska. She plays Eyre with so many layers that even she seems unaware of them all at times. She claims to have no tale of woe when asked what hardships she has had to suffer through and her determination to carry on despite everything she’s known is certainly commendable. However, as strong a woman as she is, she cannot escape unscathed, forcing her to learn that love for one’s self is a challenge that is always ongoing. As for allowing one’s self to be loved by another, that takes a strength we may not even know we have and this is what “Jane Eyre” embodies.
Review by Joseph Bélanger