Are you dying to see the latest Jane Eyre film as I do? Jane who? You ask. I cannot talk to you anymore.
There are several reasons I cannot wait to see Cary Fukunaga’s second feature (his first mainstream film; I absolutely loved his Spanish language crime saga Sin Nombre (2009)), starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. Fukunaga is one reason, another is the idea of Fassbender (remember that guy from Centurion (2010), and Bobby Sands in Hunger (2008)) playing Edward Rochester. There was a time I idolised (I mean, deeply in love with) Rochester, alongside Maxim De Winter of Rebecca. (I remember reading the Charlotte Brontë novel, first published in 1847, for the first time in high school and feeling immeasurably sad when Jane leaves Rochester and he goes blind, and feeling elated after a few pages when they are reunited and he gets his eyesight back. Perfect wish fulfilment!)
There are at least 25 films based on the novel, including the classic one featuring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine (Is it a co-incidence that Fontaine was also in Rebecca opposite Olivier’s de Winter; my favourite Laurence Olivier role, my favourite scene the scene when de Winter finally confesses to the unnamed heroine that he had never loved Rebecca, oh that feeling of giddiness, that feeling of fulfilment! On the subject, for some curious reasons my second favourite Olivier role is the Prince Regent in The Prince and the Showgirl (1967). I know the movie was useless, and his accent overdone. But his awkward chemistry with Marilyn Monroe was something else.).
Then there are the countless spin offs of the Jane Eyre myth. I think each man meet girl-woman (rich man-poor girl) story (including Rebecca) is a variation of the Jane Eyre theme. (It’s interesting that the protagonist in the Bronte novel should be called Jane; while in police parlance, a man without a name is called John Doe, a woman without a name is called Jane Doe.)
Then there’s the moor, the ultra-gothic mysteriously desperate landscape, where everything is possible, where nothing is possible, where Heathcliff cries in brooding passion, where love is dangerous game.
Then there’s the house, the Thornfield Hall, and the attic.
And then there’s the other woman, the real Mrs Rochester, the Mad Woman in the Attic, as the feminist would call her, the one who was wronged. Jean Rhys took up the cause of Bertha Mason and reinvented her as Antoinette Cosway in Wide Sargasson Sea (1966). You blame the time, you blame the white colonialists, you blame money, but you can never blame Jane.
Jane’s journey through the turmoil and strife, and her final happiness, is the process of growing up, the process of finding your place in the world, the tale of never giving up, never losing hope. That’s the reason the retellings of the Jane Eyre story are not enough.
And we don’t mind even when the story is reinvented even in a horror film, I Walked With A Zombie (1943).
The allure of the gothic will never fade, as long as there’s Heathcliff and as long as there’s Jane Eyre. Thank God for the Bronte sisters.