Watching But Not Reading: Limitations Of First Person Narrative In Film Adaptations Of Jane Eyre

2362 words - 10 pages

Jane's outburst continues, her face in more shadow than before as she yells that she can not help but to hate Brocklehurst. She then suddenly drops her voice back down to a calm, quieter tone as she reveals that she had expectations that she would be loved at school. This back and forth of tone (and volume) helps to convey Jane's mixture of frustration/anger and despair/disappointment, as well as her struggling to contain these feelings- a conflict which is made clear in Brontё's novel by relating young Jane's thoughts and emotions directly to the reader. Stevenson's Jane explains that she would let bodily harm come to her in exchange for love, which Helen brushes off, again playing the part of Jane's conscience. Jane responds by loudly insisting that she would, but Helen just reaches up and clasps Jane's hand, quietly telling her to eat her bread. Jane hesitates, evaluating Helen as if deciding whether to accept the kindness, then slowly takes a bite. Helen, still bathed in light, gives Jane an approving smile, and Jane meekly returns the smile, demonstrating the strong bond formed between the two girls.
The scene is short; but in only ninety seconds Jane's emotions and thoughts are presented to the viewer through the artful combination of cinematography, lighting, score, acting, and production design. However, unless the film is analyzed this information, which is crucial to the understanding of the mindset of Jane as an adult, can be missed. Without reading into the symbolic use of light, audiences are unaware of the lasting influence of Helen on Jane's character and of the extent of the feeling of confinement and repression that Jane experiences in her childhood. Without analyzing the varying volume and tone of young Jane's voice as she bounces back and forth between calm and anger, audiences do not understand the inner conflict Jane experiences as she tries to restrain her independent and free spirit. Passive viewing of the film changes the information audiences get from the film, which changes the way they understand Jane. Since these viewers can not experience the emotions and conflict inside Jane, and the tension between her inner self and the suppressed self she presents to the world, they are unable to connect with Jane, and thus unable to empathize with her. These viewers are distanced from Jane, and their perception of the story is very different from those that are able to actively view the film.
This difference in perception is particularly visible in critic reviews. While some critics praise the film for it's performances1, others find that it leaves the audiences without an understanding of Jane (Riley 149). Such a schism in viewer opinion suggests that the film is not successful in conveying what Stevenson had intended. While the viewers are able to follow the plot and general emotional arc of the film, they are not always able to fully understand Jane's inner conflict, because they are not able to analyze the film. Thus,...

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