Thursday, August 25, 2011

The problem of kissing in JANE EYRE '11

[Warning to those completely in the dark about the plot of JANE EYRE -- spoilers ahead!]

You all know I'm obsessed with the latest adaptation of Jane Eyre.

I've seen others comment on the lack of development in Jane and Rochester's romance, a lack of chemistry between them, and a general weirdness in their physical interactions (i.e. KISSING) on screen.

I . . . have some thoughts.

I agree that the film didn't, couldn't, spend enough time developing their very complex relationship in two hours. In some ways, I was glad to see much less of Rochester torturing and provoking Jane. In all other ways I compensated by mentally projecting what I knew about their "courtship" onto the brief scenes in the film. Not all viewers had details hovering in their minds from 5+ readings of the book, so I understand why they might feel disappointed.

I disagree about the chemistry, however. The more I watch the film, the more I see it in the subtle moments -- gestures, facial quirks and bits of dialogue. (That moment when he's on the horse and she lays her cheek on his thigh? It's wonderfully intimate, but also foreboding. So perfect!) And yet I do remember, after the proposal and subsequent kiss, thinking "Umm, that was a little awkward."

For all I know, it could have been a Clark Gable sort of situation. Since Michael Fassbender seems to exist solely on cigarettes for nutrition, perhaps Mia Wasikowska could barely stand to kiss his ashy mouth and therefore seems to be shrinking away during their embraces.

But after listening to the director's commentary, I don't think Cary Fukanaga would have put up with that.

He makes the point early on that, at eighteen, Jane is practically a child and has never kissed a man. We all know this -- most girls of her time would not have been making out with the boys in the neighborhood -- but in Jane's case I would stress that the only men she's ever had contact with on a regular basis (who else was there other than John Reed and Mr. Brocklehurst?) were cruel and physically intimidating. She has no idea how to be held by a man, much less kiss him, and even before the kiss we see her torn between excitement and terror every time she's near Rochester. It's not so much that he's scary (though I would argue he is more so in the book), but that she's grown up to be wary of male violence and has no experience with sexual passion or how to interpret sexual overtures. Imagine how freaked out she would be during every moment alone with Rochester! And then, when he does finally propose and kiss her, the contact of their lips might nearly have been a physical shock. Hence, the stiffness to her body and the sense that she is holding something back.

And then there's this particular adaptation's interpretation of Rochester. Since there's so little time to develop their growing attraction, Fukanaga (or the script, anyway) seems to focus on Rochester's desire for redemption. Jane's clever and "unpolluted" mind paired with her strong moral compass seem just the ticket to him. After his early disappointments and subsequent debaucheries, her purity will somehow cleanse him of his sins. No doubt, at this point, he is charmed by her hesitant, closed-mouthed kisses.

Of course, I also like the way in which their slightly awkward embraces foreshadow the fact that something is off-kilter with their pairing. (To me it works much better than the old "lightning strikes the tree as they embrace" cue.)

I find it interesting that, later on during Jane's "dream kiss" with Rochester, she is slightly more open-mouthed and passionate, but there's still the sense of shock and not really knowing what she's doing.

By the end, she is much more sure of herself, and the physicality in that final scene is intense. She comes to him, falls into him rather than shrinking back -- in fact, she is the dominant figure in the embrace -- and I find it exquisite.

Thoughts? What have I missed?

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]


  1. O_O

    I have to absorb this, because I basically thought this was one of the sexiest, most chemistry-filled period pieces I HAVE EVER SEEN. So, I've merely seen it 3 times (my copy shipped this morning, tho!), but I still remember the first time when I was breathless with the hawtness of them together. That scene where she puts her head on his thigh? I described that to somebody as the porn scene because I found it so raw.

    That's what I liked about this interpretation - the rawness of it. The Gothic bits were raw, the chemistry was raw - Jane herself was. So there *should* be some rough edges.

    Another thought I had about Rochester's attraction to Jane in this movie is how this movie clearly (I think) suggests that he did and kind of still does care for Bertha. He's suffering explicitly for Bertha's sake in this version, because he loved her - the way he embraces her in the attic is also really telling. So I think he's also scared with Jane. Scared of Jane's innocence, and of how it makes him feel.

    In other words, I totally agree with you, and think that Rochester is ALSO scared, adding to the hesitancy and awkwardness between them.

  2. P.S. I cannot think about Michael Fassbender with ashy cigarette mouth. D:

  3. Oh Tessa! Great point about Rochester -- I'm so in Jane's head that I forget about his vulnerability and fear. WOW. That makes it even sexier to me.

    I like your point about Bertha, too. There's something in the commentary that supports this, but I won't spoil it.

    And I'm sure Michael Fassbender brushes his teeth fastidiously. You've GOT to listen to the commentary. Apparently he was so hot on set that he even got the horses excited. :D

  4. Sonia, I think this analysis is right on. I love it that you point to the historical authenticity of a more tentative and awkward physical relationship. For me, realism is always more romantic than a passionate clinch that would not reflect the true characters of the clinchers. ;-) I'm tweeting this as I think it's a great point for other writers to consider. Also looked up your book on Amazon and plan to read it--probably when I finish my intense first-drafting schedule for my current novel which is due in a few months.

  5. Sonia, you mean we should turn the commentary on when we watch? ROGER THAT. (I read about The Horse Problem though, and could not! stop! laughing!)

  6. @Rosslyn -- I do think there are period films where it's perfectly appropriate for the kissing to be more . . . fervent and erotic. But not this one. Not these characters. Their hesitatation is poignant and sexy at the same time. I like Tessa's point about the "raw" quality to their chemistry.

    Thanks for your comment!

  7. @Tessa -- it's not the BEST commentary I've ever heard, but I did find it illuminating.

    Steve has dubbed the Horse Problem a "Fassboner."

    I imagine he had that effect on all sorts of creatures.

  8. I just checked out the first few pages of your novel and bought it. Couldn't resist the combo of good writing and Victorian ghost story. I'll just have to squeeze it in as 'refresher' during the great writing marathon.

    And I do agree about the variation in kissing in historical films--that's the whole point of your post. Henry VIII is not going to kiss in a tentative, awkward way (though I don't really want to envision how the actual Henry VIII would kiss. Blech. :-)

  9. Rosslyn -- Ewww, the idea of Henry VIII's kisses is a little off-putting. Especially once he gets to Jane Seymour. But THE TUDORS sure made much of his early exploits in kissing, etc. (With much emphasis on the etc.)

    Thanks so much for buying the book!

  10. Okay, well now that I know he is a walking, talking chimney, that explains it for me! ;) I'm so sad now, though, knowing this about him.

    Seriously, everything you say makes sense. It was as it should be.

    And now, I MUST watch the commentary!!!!!!

  11. Sonia, this is brilliant. I have to confess having not read the book since high school (I do mean to re-read soon). Rosslyn and I actually saw the movie together. I thought it was brilliant and didn't think to classify the romantic moments as awkward/lacking chemistry but, like you said, saw them as a young girl new to this world and an injured man finding his way.

    Rosslyn, you will LOVE Sonia's book. Promise.

  12. @Lisa -- I should never have mentioned the smoking. Now people will think of it when they watch those scenes. Bad me! Oh, and the commentary is interestingm, but at times it does get technical. Still, it's obvious how much he respected the novel and how proud he is of the film. Yay!

    @Caroline -- I'm planning to re-read soon (bought the Norton Critical Edition for the occasion). I love your charactization of their chemistry as "a young girl new to this world and an injured man finding his way." Lovely. (Although I do get mad at Rochester -- "you're going about it the wrong way, man! No cheating! No quick fix!" Good thing Jane was so strong.)

  13. Sonia-thanks for this awesome post. I'm still in my "Jane Eyre coma" as my copy arrived recently and I watched it last night. My little sis had to fan me while chanting "come back to reality..." after the scene where Rochester was begging Jane to stay. It's just...yeah. Anyway, your points are so insightful, and only add to my love of this version of the story.
    By the way... I read your book recently and meant to email you to wax poetic about how much I loved it, but I didn't want to be another annoying ;) So here I am, telling you I enjoyed it immensely, think you're fabulous, and cannot wait for whatever else you have in store! :)

  14. Oh I want to join this conversation badly. I am a huge fan of period piece kissing and though I too would not like to think about the real Henry the VIII - I sure did love JRM as him in the Tudors (with all the etc.) I could go on about other period piece hotties and kisses - but I won't. I do have to admit - and I am sorry to do so - I really didn't like this new Jane Eyre. I thought it was dry and not Gothic enough. I felt Rochester wasn't believable and I didn't get any stomach flips from watching their interactions. For this reason though, it is great to read everyone else's enjoyment. Maybe I missed something. Perhaps I will watch it again. AND I have to check out your book. I write ghost stories too (modern ones with historical elements).

  15. @Rachel -- I know what you mean about the "Jane Eyre coma." I always go into a daze after watching this adaptation. There's just so much to think about and replay in my head! And gosh, thanks so much for letting me know you enjoyed the book. I could never find that annoying; on the contrary, it brightens my day! :D

    @A.M. -- Please do join the conversation! I love to make lists of period piece hotties. I do hope you'll give this adaptation of Jane Eyre another shot. My obsession for it grew out of several viewings. I mean, I quite liked it the first time around, but kept noticing more and more lovely things on subsequent viewings.

  16. Hmmm, I'm beginning to think we may be two peas in a pod! I cant begin to tell you how excited I was about this movie coming out! This movie, like the newest Pride and Prejudice, has quickly become one of my go-to, watch at any time at any point in the movie, favorites. I just love the style and adaptation, and really, all of it.

    You make great points about the kissing scene and awkwardness and Jane's psychological reasons for her behavior. It annoys me a bit in some dramas where the 'prim governess' suddenly becomes an unabashed sex kitten after one smooch or a marriage just doesn't work that way!
    I was struck, though, but how much more alive and how much more expression Mia suddenly took on as "Jane in love." After that you realize how very restrained and removed she'd been for much of her interactions as an adult. I loved seeing them for the brief moments of happiness and smiling.
    Anyhow...yeah. Totally in love with this movie. And have loved Jane Eyre since I read it in the 10th grade. I had a Jane Eyre portrait published in an art magazine a few months ago as well. Its a fabulous story~