2011 is unarguably the year of Michael Fassbender. Magneto in X-Men: First Class, Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method, a sex addict in Shame, and here, the moody, haunted Fairfax Rochester in Jane Eyre. Having seen two of his four performances, it’s assured that Fassbender will be around for the long haul. As Rochester, he is in flux; a vacillating romantic unable to have the thing most important to him.
The story of Jane Eyre is familiar to anyone who took high school English: a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) with a bleak past is hired as a governess to the ward of Mr. Fairfax Rochester (Fassbender), a man twice her age. Though she is well beneath his class, the two share an undeniable connection. But Mr. Rochester harbors a secret which keeps the young woman at arm’s length, and eventually drives her away. In this gothic romance, Director Cary Fukunaga has raised the stakes, creating an environment so bleak, love seems to be the only path to unqualified contentment.
There are essentially three elements that matter in this iteration of Jane Eyre: the performance of Fassbender, the performance of Wasikowska, and the atmosphere created by Fukunaga. The two leads spend much of the film sizing each other up, their ornamental dialogue a sort of sparring. These scene towards the beginning of their relationship are arresting, if for no other reason than Fassbender and Wasikowska have a true chemistry. The brooding Rochester is intimidating, but also apparently a bleeding heart. And Jane Eyre has an elegant toughness that evolves the novel’s proto-feminism for a more contemporary time. Her quick tongue offers up some of the best lines in the film, and Rochester is never shy with an equally clever rebuttal. Fukunaga’s setting meanwhile is mostly bleak and tawny; a style that compliments the story and characters profoundly. This world is dark, and one must find their joys wherever they can. Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester are characters who understand this completely, and their love for one another is sustained by a desperation that sits at the heart of this timeworn romance.
Jane Eyre is an effective and affecting love story that utilizes two of the most talented performers working right now, and reminds its viewers of a time when the problems of love were greater, and love was stronger for it.