Did you know that I’ve seen three Michael Fassbender movies in the same room? Jane Eyre – my poorly written review here – is playing now at the Varsity 8, possibly the biggest screening room in Toronto (if you don’t count the repertory and TIFF theatres). I also saw Hunger and Inglorious Basterds at the same screening room. That’s one hell of a coincidence.
This post exists because Anthony Oliveira retweeted A.L. Day’s mini review: ‘Jane Eyre: solid “meh.” tried to be Austen; suffered for it. go gothic or go home.’
Then I thought about the difficulties of perfecting Gothic literature into cinema in the age of colour, the grainy textures of the walls of a grand old house pale in comparison against the shadows of black and white films?
Gothic cinema to me are movies released in the 1940’s or 50’s. Rebecca, Hamlet, The Secret Garden, but those movies are also called ‘noirs,’ referring either to genre or style. I looked up Gothic cinema on Google but the films that the pages listed belong to more genres – German Expressionism, Hammer horror, giallo and new Spanish cinema. Maybe ‘Gothic’ is too big and elastic of a bracket to have ever been considered a genre in the first place?
Anthony actually brought up Shutter Island as Gothic film’s ‘truest recent inheritor,’ which makes sense since the film checks off things on the list, scary men, haunted architecture, jagged rocks, insanity, damsels in distress. The film’s sensory overload, with the blaring bass of the soundtrack to the white screen flashbacks, also matches the descriptive prose of the Bronte sisters and Byron.
Jane Eyre has a slightly faster pace and is more plot-centred than the impressionistic feel of Emma Thompson’s Austen adaptations. The visuals are Campion-esque. I looked for Gothic references through the artwork featured in the film. The pictures within books that the young Jane (Amelia Clarkson) reads are minuscule, mature Jane’s (Mia Wasikowska) drawings more ethereal than ghostly, the paintings in Rochester’s (Fassbender) walls are French academy. I’m sure he has a Goya or a late Rembrandt tucked behind the walls somewhere, like ‘Grace Poole.’
The film has harsh close-ups under candlelight, foggy moors with barren trees, claustrophobic dark rooms and hallways but those images together don’t a Gothic movie make. I blame Dario Marianelli‘s score, its violins playing at a slightly slower pace than the faster piano footsteps in Atonement, although I’m not saying that those scores aren’t great.
Shutter Island embraces its campy insanity, as Anthony said it’s more Poe than Romantic. Fukunaga and crew, however, didn’t want Jane Eyre to associate too closely with genre, hoping it would bring the film some quality (it succeeds in doing so). I’m also hesitant in Gothic cinema’s campy tendencies, especially in its manifestations in Hammer or giallo. Is it scary if I’m laughing at the cheesy organ music? The visuals might be seen as gags if they veered closer into genre film, and Fukunaga then seems to tone it down.
Rochester should also be scary, my father’s girlfriend distinctively calling him a monster. But Fassbender gives the character heart, talking about horrific things with concern instead of disgust. Sally Hawkins‘ Mrs. Reed also seems more misguided than fiercely cruel. These sympathetic villains outweigh the abuses of Mrs. Reed’s son John, the Lowell headmaster and the force behind the terrors within Rochester’s home. One is underage, another is insane, all are bit parts. The movie decides to absolve those characters’ sins despite their actions. The wise forgiveness of an adult governs this film instead of the fears of a biased, oppressed child.
But in the end, do I care if Jane Eyre didn’t meet nor revive a genre’s expectations? Not yet, still swooning.
Director Nigel Cole’s Made in Dagenham owes John de Borman’s creamy, pastel cinematography and balanced lighting that eases the transition from the fictional film to the 1960’s newsreel-like footage in both colour and black and white.
The first scene shows protagonist Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins) riding a bicycle to her job at the Ford factory in Dagenham, England. I remember those bicycle scenes when an American senior at Ford threatens labour minister Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson) to withdraw, I recall 40,000 jobs that Ford gives to the United Kingdom. The only character I remember having a car is upper-class Lisa Hopkins (Rosamund Pike). Rita’s coworker Brenda (Andrea Riseborough) also as a quick scene in a Ford, although the car’s ownership isn’t explicitly revealed. I assumed that the company at the time wouldn’t give cars to their workers either for free or for cheaper like they would in Detroit. The company has thus treated the British more as labourers than consumers, and I wonder whether Barbara has caught into this. That or the English and just weird and prefer bikes. The cars don’t fit within the housing apartments in the London suburb anyway.
Hawkins, Riseborough and the other actresses make for good activists. I expect some of the audience to wonder how a meek wife like Hawkins’ Rita to become a loud mouthed expert demagogue. From experience, having a working class job and pointing their eyes and ears in the right directions turn these women from just workers to masters of knowing union rights. The film portray these women at the tail end of their patience, rapidly having the courage to demand equal pay. Rita beautifully portrays the workers’ voice, a character who has experience at the factory and years of pent-up personal anger – e.g. having to deal with her son’s condescending school teacher – to be able to speak up to union presidents and even Barbara without hesitating.
Another way of looking at this feminist courage is looking at the actresses’ CV’s, both Hawkins being busy playing another woman going against the grain and Pike playing another not-your-average perfect wife. How do they do the same things, fail in other movies yet excel here? Is this because the constraints of ‘unique’ storytelling from the other films isn’t found here, surprisingly freeing both actresses to do more? Or because they’re in the driver’s seat, letting the audience see the characters react from one situation to another instead of male actors reacting to them?
Hearing the word ‘feminist’ in describing a film might turn audiences away, fearing that a movie like this will be about the female characters against the men. The men are mostly ‘icky,’ but there are defectors from both sides. There’s Rita’s husband (Daniel Mays) who needed a little convincing and Lisa who was suspected of fighting with her husband, who happens to be a superior at Ford. Thankfully, the characterizations are more subtle and they don’t behave like they have jerseys or labels behind their backs.
Kazuo Ishiguro‘s novel Never Let Me Go, about young adult clones slightly obsessed about their Cytherean childhoods, is now a feature film. Director Mark Romanek uses a linear approach to the story instead of the impressionistic one in the novel, and like any adaptation, it could go either way.
And sure Romanek mixes up a few things from the source material, a small grievance. And there’s many holes in the script that makes all interactions feel set-up and less organic, a bigger grievance. There’s also a lot of details, beautifully shot, that enhances the object-obsessed part of the story Romanek wants to tell.
But who can resist watching Keira Knightley as Ruth transforming from a histrionic, control freak of a girl into a worn down defeatist, needing a walker, giving a performance that’s the best in her career so far? Or Andrew Garfield as Tommy D., the awkward, gentle, brave boy we can’t help but reach out to?
Charlotte Rampling plays an icy Miss Emily. The script could have also given better justice to Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins) and to Kathy (Carey Mulligan). The film unfortunately turns Kathy from the sane one into the less than pretty virgin. Though Mulligan could have been better, I like her better here than in An Education. I also like the girl who plays the younger Ruth, being able to change emotions so subtly. Despite of its flaws, the film does pull on your heartstrings, and in Cythera, that should suffice. My rating – 3/5.