12 September 2001
Summary Applications Paper: A Bleak Fairy Tale
In Jane Eyre (1944), director Robert Stevenson uses elements of photography to show that innocent suffering can and should be endured for it will eventually build character and perhaps lead to material and emotional happiness. In the film Stevenson uses techniques of classical and formalist cinema to showcase the classic fairy-tale story of Jane Eyre. An analysis of the photographic elements in the school hall scene will show that Stevenson's techniques focus on Jane (Peggy Ann Garner) and her suffering; they also tend to separate her from most of the other people, almost glorifying her role as sufferer, and by extension the interesting eventually-to-be-rewarded heroine.
The director has chosen to use black & white film, although that choice in 1944 may have been guided by financial as well as artistic concerns. Black & white works well for this story, though, as its characters tend to be either good or bad--with not much leeway in between (except for Orson Welles's Rochester). Jane, blond and beautiful as a child, is a "good" one; Brocklehurst, tall, thin and almost emaciated-looking, is a "bad" one. The lighting tends to fall in between low key--leaving depressing shadows during the schoolroom scene--and high contrast, illuminated Jane in her moments of tragi-glory.
In the initial establishing long shot, we see Jane in dwarfed in the large schoolroom. A close-up lets us know that she is hopeful of her situation--at least until her expression changes as Brocklehurst condemns her as a liar, although actually perpetuating her aunt's lies. The shadows of the beams tend to emphasize her suffering as they appear to be prison bars, caging her into her humiliation. The long shot near the end of the scene tends to highlight Jane, making her the dominant as the background characters walk away alone. Jane is left, suffering and alone--but the light can still produce halation effects in her hair, letting us know that her goodness will probably be rewarded.
In conclusion, through Stevenson's use of photographic techniques, viewers become emotionally involved with Jane's unfair treatment, empathizing with her misfortunes and sharing her humiliation. The use of black & white film and its formalist relation with the opposition of good and bad allows us to understand that Jane, the good, is unfairly prosecuted. The shots emphasize the emotional aspects of the scene, again highlighting the difference between Jane and all the others. The lighting gives us hope that Jane will have a change of fortune, living happily ever-after, in typical fairy-tale fashion. As the end of the film supports this, we can see that Stevenson and Jane Eyre's message is that long suffering will eventually pay off, earning the sufferer happiness and wealth.
Stevenson uses elements of mise-en-scène to show that innocent suffering can and should be endured for it will eventually build character and perhaps lead to material and emotional happiness. In the scene where . . . . .