3 Stars — Challenging

The 1847 classic novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is a favorite of filmmakers. Filmed 15 times before, Cary Fukunaga makes it 16 with this 2011 remake.

The first was a silent film starring Louise Vale in the title role, and the last was the 1996 film starring Charlotte Gainsbourg. With a style previously revealed in his study of gang life in Sin Nombre, Fukunaga creates a dark and foreboding version of this well-known tale.

As Fukunaga uses visual poetry throughout the tale, his choice for the title role of Jane by Mia Wasikowska as the adult and Amelia Clarkson as the preteen are perfectly cast for the way he presents the tale.

Beginning the story with a distraught Jane running into an empty and desolate landscape, with the storm brewing and the rain and cold punishing, we experience the pathos that has defined her life.

Rescued by a young minister and his two sisters, Jane then begins to remember the journey that brought her to this place. In this intertwining of present and past, we realize that hers is a dark journey with only moments of light and hope in a life filled with disappointment and betrayal. But we also realize that this suffering has formed her into a woman of courage, integrity and depth.

Central to her journey is the love she develops for the gentleman, Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender). An unhappy man with a dark secret, Rochester is seldom at home and painfully alone. But when he meets Jane, their souls connect and they are both inextricably drawn to each other. The reasons become increasingly clear as their mutual sorrows meld. It is also clear that Jane’s experiences of having been betrayed by those closest to her make her unable to accept any further deceit from Rochester.

The other characters in the tale include a cruel aunt of Jane’s, Mrs. Reed (Sally Hawkins), who sent her away as a child to a school led by an abusive headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst (Simon McBurney). But it is in this school that Jane meets an angelic student, Helen (Freya Parks), whose grace and love for God shine brightly in that darkness. It is the light of her friend’s faith and kindness that Jane then takes into her own life.

A classic love story with religious and moral themes, Jane Eyre is a story that takes the loneliness of the human condition and our common desire for love, truth and belonging, and exaggerates them for the screen. As such, it is a story for everyone.


» When Jane’s aunt lied about Jane by calling her a liar, we see her projection of her own sin by ascribing it to another. Jesus describes this as having a log in one’s own eye and seeing a speck of sawdust in another’s. How do you deal with your own tendency to project your sins onto others and become judgmental?

» In a day when divorce is far more easily obtained, it is difficult to understand Mr. Rochester’s behavior with his wife. But placing ourselves back into that time, what would you have done if you were in his place?

» The proclamation by St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) that God wants Jane to marry him is a manipulation of her faith. Has anyone ever tried to manipulate you by using your faith to get you to do something that person wanted? What did you do?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.