Published: Aug 17, 2011 12:00:00 PM

"[Jane Eyre] That's humanity. It's a time-traveling bullshit-breaking missile, killing insecurities, past and present, with chemical weapons that violate the Geneva Conventions."


This is a creeping story about outdated ideas presented through a modern lens. It's a lady-movie that has a gender-neutral opinion on what it means to be emotionally miserable. Progressive! English countrysides, stupid rules -- mental, emotional, and meta-physical demons crawl the background. It's a chick flick staged as a gritty ghost story. There are old books that were written with the intention to trundle on for months and months, dragging a reader down with them. In many ways, those stories were ahead of their time. You are meant to read them chapter by chapter, digesting them slowly, distancing yourself when you don't have time to read or can't stand the story's boredom or the villains' cruelty anymore. Remember for the entire back half of Wuthering Heights when Heathcliff was donkey-punching every stable emotion he encountered? Urgh. You can only process so much slobbering misery in book-form. As a movie though, you're stuck with it for a limited engagement. Movies are watched in one sitting. You're there from beginning to end -- there's no escape and that's a good thing. You're there, just like characters, bound by stupid rules.

This is not a stupid movie though. It's an S-grade production of a D-grade concept. It's thesis: "Sad you can't have that," has sold more stories than "Once upon a time..." but it's through that simplicity that we can enter this story, and its simple thesis, a million and one times, sometimes with great results -- this is one of those times. Jane Eyre is to Byronic-romance as Avatar is to science-fiction. Who knew that Charlotte Brontë was working in the wrong medium?

Michael Fassbender, aka Baby Magneto (Mad*Men*Spy*Cool out of 4) is Edward Fairfax Rochester.

He's unhappy with the fact that shit catches fire around him. Master of Thornfield Manor, he carries a lot of emotional baggage around the English wilderness, being a dick to everybody that works for him because there's not much else going on. Can you imagine that? You're so rich and so indifferent, and there's quite literally no television, so you devote your entire life to being a growling-contempt-man-blob, draped in self-pity. Gentlemen would devote entire lifetimes to acting like this and it was socially acceptable, and quite normal, actually. Fantasy kicks in though -- "Maybe he's got a good reason for being an unchained face-cock?" Leave it to the ladies to want to draw some good out of a man like Rochester. Money can't buy a man happiness, as per usual. Wait, sorry, we're talking about this from a man's point of view, and this is a proto-feminist story.

Alice of Goddamn Wonderland (Worst*Movie*Of*All*Time out of 4) is Jane Eyre. Orphaned, abused, well-educated, but not self-pitying, this is a girl that hears voices. She hears voices, but doesn't let it bother her. It's not disabling, she can still speak and is rather kind. Normally we'd burn a female lead -- or any lead, c'mon, what are we talking about -- for being self-pitying, which, fortunately, Jane isn't. She isn't delusional either. She's skeptical, but not of herself. She's able and realistic. Compassionate to a fault from a young age, she succeeds in becoming an individual in an era when that is commonly bad form and worse news for a woman. She's likely to end up a missionary's wife with that attitude.

Does anybody do cruelty like the British? They're so right-proper and passionless in their emotional bitch-slaps. It's as if the country is one gigantic frat house and the adults all haze their kids to be loveless skull-fuckers, who will, in turn, raise the next generation in a becoming fashion. Even the rich kids are raised by nannies, educators, and governesses. They don't really have to grow up until its time to smother their parents in their beds to inherit the vast, vast, vast estates for their own. Then they'll brood for a few decades, have a an illegitimate child or two, and then realize all their friends are having "actual" kids, and they gots to keep up their appearances, lest they be social outcasts. Any non-diseased women want in?

That's how it was. Just give him a girl that won't annoy him too much and might be able to squirt out some spawn that don't die form typhoid at age two. What use is there for a woman that'll be any more than that? Brontë really saw an easy market for our simple thesis: "What if people didn't, as a rule, have to suck? What if emotions worked properly and made sense?" Fairy tales, lady. "What if there were ghosts, supernatural entities getting in your way too?" Whoa, stop pitching, Wilma Shakespeare, you struck oil with Ghost-Romance!

The existence of demons in Jane Eyre is a magic trick.

They're very real in a Batman Begins kind of way -- and now we have to stop bringing up Chris Nolan movies. It looks real, you're told it isn't, you comply with the unreality, then you find out you were actually right with your first guess. The 2011 film version of Jane Eyre (which we're talking about right now!) is a story that should have been a 2011 film before it was ever a book from a quadrillion years ago. Framed the way it is, and knowing that Wuthering Heights is a book that exists (and was only published two months later in 1847), Jane Eyre is haunted. It must to be! Fireplaces explode whenever Jane gets angry as a child. Rochester's bed catches fire for no reason -- all of these moments are surrounded by voices in Jane's head, hiding inside the walls, causing deliberate cruelty. Life, society, and The Rules hate Jane, forcing her to assume that all people are entirely rotten inside, frogspawn boiling at the sight of her, and there's no way her good can beat all that bad.

There's no beating ghosts. Ghosts are the only thing that could make a man like Rochester so gnarled and jagged. Rochester begins as a cagey, hideous fucker and Baby Magneto plays him like a cross between Axel Rose and Anakin Skywalker. He's an shifty, arrogant rockstar that cares so much about what people think of him and hates them for it. He hates where he is. He hates that he has to live with the ghosts lurking around Thornfield Manor. He hates that he has an illegitimate daughter who is so adorably French and he must educate -- not himself, no, hire a woman to do it, fuck, what kind of man do you take him for? Enter: Jane Eyre, who is named Jane, and must act as such. Is Jane a bad name? No, it's a just a name. We don't feel like completing that thought, we'll let you chose your own adventure.

Jane's humanity snaps Rochester out of his mire though. Humanity, in a woman, to a man, is that thing where your buddy is trying to describe the dreamgirl and he says "She's indescribable," and then you hit him for having no vocabulary, and he adds, "She just talks to me, and it makes sense." That's humanity. It's a time-traveling bullshit-breaking missile, killing insecurities, past and present, with chemical weapons that violate the Geneva Conventions. Humanity kills ghosts. It doesn't take Rochester long to make the right decision, weird as it is, to marry Jane. How far into the movie are we? About an hour or so?

This does not bode well for humanity. Enter: The Twist. The ghost bites back hard. It has a lair right inside the wall behind Rochester's bed. It would have stayed there if it weren't for this one little he-bitch calling Rochester out on the bullshit in his past. Humanity gets killed by stupid rules, by rotten English tradition, by generational contempt that you can't fight. It just froths inside, giving the men sepsis, and giving women, well, we dunno, let's say, toxic shock. That sounds gross enough. Real gothic horror kicks in now, shit that would make Poe beam. Rochester kept his half-mad first wife locked in a secret room behind a tapestry. That's the ghost, she's actually real! That is so fucking cool. If that was the plot twist in a modern horror story, and it was set in New York City or something, and the rich guy kept his mentally-unhinged ex-wife to prowl a back room of his expensive mid-town loft, your very organs would walk out on you for exposing them to that kind of trauma. It would knock peoples' brains off. Sitting and watching the movie for a solid 80 minutes, with the viewers assuming that eventually a real un-live banshee would come howling across the moor to reave somebody's soul, we suddenly get this?! This comes so far out of left field that you realize Rochester was a dick for very real reasons -- his daddy married him to a crazy girl for money, basically ending his life, because he can't remarry (for some reason, were annulments still not cool back then?), especially not to Jane The Deserving.

Jane saw this coming too! She isn't a precocious shrew because she's enjoys defiance, she's humane because she has decided that is best way for her to live. She warns Rochester that he shouldn't assume that she is heartless because she balances honesty and reserve with elegance. He shouldn't want her just because she's different. But Rochester says: "Fuck it, let's wedding the shit out of this scenario!" Heroes always enjoy blissful matrimony midway through their stories, never to see sadness again. We love the "falling in love" montage they have during the wedding preparation. It's a total Sword of Damocles. Mere sentences from being happily married, Act 2 has to end, crushing all hope. The Ghoul-Wife sees an end to that and Jane has to bolt in the night.

Here is where the story frays. The movie actually begins at this moment with a flash-forward of Jane bolting in the night, being a decent place to begin the story. The time Jane spends with the kindly sisters and the mildly-odd missionary. We suppose this is supposed to represent the banal existence one could choose if love became too hard. It's the fire escape and it's lunacy. It's a chaste, sucky existence, is what it is. Fortunately, Jane is all, "Later, haterz," and leaves Billy Elliot: Missionary. She realizes she'd rather go back to Baby Magneto than go to India as a missionary's wife, which is the safest job in the goddamn world. She wins because she doesn't comply, which is totally what Ellen Ripley would have done, and that's why her name is the title, and why this story is more modern than modern -- she gets what she wants by growing, not by complying.

Does Jane sacrifice some pride and conscience here? She goes back for Rochester, finding the manor half-burned by The Ghoul-Wife. Root for the happy ending, root for forgiveness, root for love -- the fact that she chooses something risky and stupid (something that's actually counter to her character earlier in the story) over something sure and simple, is why wins Jane back her humanity, and why, for once, she isn't running back, needy, to a man. Again, this is why she wins. At the end of it all, after being hauled through the Uruk-hai muck with Jane for roughly two hours, it concludes with optimism, which is more than we'd expect from a Brontë. Praise for an old story about old people whose premise becomes too modern for its own good.

-- Alex Crumb (originally published 8/17/11)
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