Jane Eyre ’11: The Rant

In my review of Jane Eyre (2011), I mentioned that there were a few things I would have a separate rant about. This is that post. It will contain lots of spoilers, it will be ranting. Readers of a delicate disposition might want to look away now, even though I don’t use the F word once. This is in some sort of chronological order and might be edited if I can think of more things after posting.

Ready? Here we go.

Lowoods only problem? Lack of laundry facilities.

This is a school which made the children work very hard in very poor conditions: undoubtedly they had to help with things like washing and had to keep their things spotless. It’s often said that when people are poor, or at least when they used to be back in the day, they took pride in keeping themselves and their dwellings really clean, because pride was all they had. Lowood is a horrible place – not enough food, the girls are cold and everything done to teach their mortal flesh a harsh lesson. We don’t know that here. We know that Brocklehurst is all for beating kiddies to teach them their place, but that’s it. The only thing to hint at squalor is that the fabric in the girls’ dresses are knobbly and their collars are unclean and a little creased.

Of course, after the typhus outbreak (of which there is also no word), conditions at Lowood vastly improved, as Mr. Brocklehurst was finally taken out of the equation, because the school’s benefactors discovered what was really going on. The children were finally fed properly and they didn’t have to freeze all the time. But in this film, as the children are bidding their warm farewells to “Miss Eyre”, their collars and dresses look the same as they did when Jane herself was a pupil. What?

Oh, to live in perpetual spring …

The filming at Haddon Hall was done in February and March. So, just like in 2006, we’re in a perpetual pre-spring with daffodils. And then there are blossoming cherry trees and roses … while there’s a frost on? The other little spring flower bunches shown casually in the shot look out of place – which they are – they’re fake. The gardener at Haddon apparently fumed at the fake blossoms they put up in the garden because X and Y were not flowers that would blossom at the same time. Perhaps they should’ve consulted him?

The tree where the proposal (and indeed the final scene) takes place is THE ONLY TREE WITH LEAVES in the area. I kid you not. The leaves on it, by the way, look fake too. I thought they looked a bit odd the first time, and the second time, I was trying to figure out what tree it was that would have such leaves, and was stumped. None that I know of? (EDIT 11/2013: Actually, it might be a sweet chestnut.) They were originally going to have a whole fake tree, but it blew over in the night before the day they were due to start filming, so instead they had to go with the REAL tree that stood next to it. Which of course wouldn’t have leaves on it that early in the year – like the REST of the trees you see. *shakes head*

Also, that’s not how you cut roses, Jane. You need to cut them at an angle if you want them to live longer. So my mother says and she has green fingers, she does. (My approach to gardening is more to let nature take its course. And occasionally mow the lawn.)

The Rivers siblings – buy three, get none free!

Why is this such an issue? Surely it means the story is a lot more palatable for a modern audience, because isn’t it OH SO CONVENIENT in the novel how the very people Jane ends up with, after days crying on the moors, turn out to be her long lost cousins? Surely removing the family connection can only be a positive thing? I’m willing to compromise here. There are other adaptations that cut out the family connection, but it’s done in a different way. Here, it puts a whole new spin on it.

St. John Rivers finds out about Jane’s true identity, and responds to Mr. Briggs’ advertisement in The Times (!) about Jane Eyre. He tells her she’s inherited her uncle. Jane decides that she wants to split the money with those who saved her, which is fair enough but a little … surprising. Sure, they helped her out of a bad situation, but to give up ¾ of her big inheritance to her Samaritans feels over the top. Sure, she’s grateful, but THAT much? A generous donation would probably have sufficed, but not £15,000 worth! But that’s not what REALLY annoys me.

Jane has pledged £5000 to each of them, and then goes on to say that she’s never had family, and that St. John would never understand what that’s like as he’s always had one. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE can he adopt her as their sister? After all, she’s just given them £5000 each, so who is he to refuse? WHAT?! This puts a WHOLE new meaning to a kind gesture. It makes it sound as if Jane is trying to BUY herself a family, and that’s WRONG!

In the novel, she splits the money with St. John, Diana and Mary because it’s the right thing to do: John Eyre was their uncle too, and he only left them a tiny amount to buy them funeral rings. Jane, on the other hand, gets a fortune, which she thinks is unfair. Why should she inherit all the money and property from an uncle she has never met and her newly discovered cousins get nothing? It’s not right, and splitting the money with them is the right thing to do. Yes, of course Jane’s grateful for their Samaritan act, but that’s not really why she gives them the money. Yet in this adaptation, she buys herself a family, using their charitable act as a bargaining tool for St. John to accept her money and adoption proposal.

(I could say something about the kissing his sisters on the mouth thing, or his talk of a “thorough education”, but it brings back bad memories of a derivative novel, so I shan’t dwell on it. *shudders*)

Hey, great idea: let’s nick the ending off Aldous Huxley!

In the end of the novel, Jane travels to Thornfield, finds it burned down and from a man nearby, she hears the story of what happened. She then pays him to take her 30 miles down the road to Ferndean, where Rochester now lives. Adéle has been sent off to school and Mrs. Fairfax has retired with a generous pension.

Or, you could use the Welles/Fontaine version’s ending: have Jane walk in the blackened ruins of Thornfield and come across Mrs. Fairfax, who says what’s happened. Because obviously, Thornfield is still liveable … What, in like a garden shed or something? I thought the point was Rochester grew [even more] bitter and dismissed people left, right and centre and shut himself up like a recluse before the Hall burned? And then, Jane goes to find a bushy-bearded and blinded Rochester in the grounds moping about. I wasn’t crazy about that ending the first time, and I sure as hell am not impressed by it now. But, I suppose, there’s one thing that could salvage it, if it wasn’t for the fact that …

Im sure there was supposed to be a strong, feminist message in the end bit there, somewhere … right?

Gah!! If the final encounter under the fake tree had been anywhere near that of the novel, i.e. containing ANY of that crucial dialogue, then I would have forgiven the lack of Ferndean. But no. This is actually a point that the Squeeze brought up. I was too busy grumbling over how they’d cut the ending short, but he pointed out that the whole point of the ending, as far as he knew, was to show how ahead-of-her-time Charlotte Brontë was with regards to feminism, and all of that gets lost when you cut the ending. And he’s absolutely right.

There is a bit of talking back and forth between Jane and Rochester in the end, as we all know. In the ending, we learn that Rochester has nothing to live for but then Jane returns to him, of her own free will, and that now, she’s an independent woman. She can do as she pleases, and it pleases her to come and see him, and to tease him about his wild man appearance and to taunt him about where she’s been hiding and with whom. They have a long talk, Rochester is jealous of St. John but in the end, Jane’s choice is to be with Rochester, and offers to be his companion or nurse, but he wants neither – he wants a wife. And a wife he gets, because SHE CHOOSES IT: “Reader, I married him.”

Rochester is blinded and crippled – symbolically castrated, they say – and then, ONLY then can he have what his heart desires. The power balance has shifted. He’s no longer the master and she the poor, lowly governess. She’s reasonably wealthy and can take care of herself with or without him.

And in the film, all we get is an “is that you? It is?” and they cry and embrace and kiss and we’ll have to assume they live happily ever after. Nothing there to really stimulate the brain cells, is there? Just Mr. Bushy-Beard and a Jane in much fancier attire now than she used to have, because She Has Money Now. The ending is too short, and it’s too short for the wrong reasons. There’s no question if Jane has really come back to stay, even. IT BUGS ME. For the first time, the couple can truly meet like equals, but that gets lost in the tears under a tree dolled up with fake leaves.

If the original ending is a 19th century feminist statement, don’t omit it! Especially not when earlier on, Jane has spoken about how she doesn’t understand why women can’t be “out there” doing things, like men can. Why should they be restricted to embroidery and cooking? (Why, indeed!)

And that’s a big let-down. Not just that the ending is abrupt and that the final line sounds SO MUCH like a Final Line it can’t not be a final line.

And furthermore …

Let’s wrap up now, by saying that the money matters and flirting scene should’ve been left the way it was in the novel. They’re FLIRTING. Like in 2006 – “now you owe me £5” “well, come back for them!” Not that “I don’t trust you a whit” business, even if it’s lightly meant.

And I haven’t even mentioned how silly the feather-blowing game with Blanche Ingram is. But now I need to go to bed, so good night and good rant.

What gets your goat with the new adaptation? Where did the film makers go wrong? Or do you in fact completely disagree with what I’ve said? (Totally won’t mind if that is the case, btw. Discussions are awesome!)

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