Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Jane Eyre - Messed Up

Sorry, but that's my reaction to the William Hurt film version.

To turn a book into a film - or a miniseries, opera, or play - there must always be cuts: other forms of story-telling just don't have the leisure or elbow-room a novel has.  Sometimes a few additions to the book are needed to explain things to an audience.  But there's seldom justification to simply up and change things.

This version of Jane Eyre changes waaaay too much.

Like the lightning blasted tree in the story, the novel Jane Eyre has a huge flaw, a ridiculous coincidence, that clefts the middle of the plot: when the destitute Jane just stumbles across her cousins.  It's too pat to be allowed in a modern novel.  Since the book was published in1847 (when coincidence was okay), readers have shrugged and kept reading.

But this film version, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, presumes to correct this flaw.  So Jane's physical suffering evaporates with her starving trek across the moor; her independence dwindles as her school mistress job vanishes; the cousins become cyphers and the family home Jane finds with them is snatched away; and the male cousin, St. John, loses his tortured grandeur (and alternate love-interest status), reduced to moral beggary...

Upon that splintered-oak of a plot "flaw" hangs half the novel.

Zeffirelli made the crippling mistake of trying to substitute logic for emotion... in a masterpiece based on emotion!  I guess it proves you have to understand the heart of an artwork - its basic impulse - and, whatever else you do, not mess with that.
Public domain image.

(Earlier posts on Jane Eyre.)

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