The problem of kissing in JANE EYRE ’11

Aug 25, 2011

[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]

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