Often, I’ll see a trailer for a movie like Becoming Jane (2007, ***) and write it off as just another boring English period piece akin to most of the drab things that are churned out of Masterpiece Theater on a bad day. How wonderfully surprised I was the other day to walk into the theater and find a film that, although not a masterpiece, was thought-provoking, well-acted, beautifully scored, and more worthy of my time than any of the other disposable fare at the multiplex.
From what I’ve read, Becoming Jane is a highly fictionalized account of the life of Jane Austen. The script is so well-written and feels so much like the writings of Jane Austen that one could get the feeling that the screenplay was found among the authoress’ unpublished writings. I doubt it … but it’s a nice thought.
Although the film is very enjoyable, it does have its weak points. The handheld, slightly frenetic camerawork did not fit the subject of the story or the time period in which it was set. I’m a firm believer that if there is going to be handheld camerawork, it should be motivated (my favorite example of this is American Beauty … Mendes only goes handheld when Ricky and his father duke it out). The second weakness of the film seemed to be its slight uncertainty of tone. Some scenes seem to get distracted from the main journey of the story by indulging into the pleasure of the atmosphere rather than focusing on the characters acting within the atmosphere.
Weaknesses aside, I think the greatness of Becoming Jane’s subject matter is enough to overshadow the minute technical weaknesses.
The main focus of the film is on Jane’s journey to become her own person. This is why the movie is not simply called Being Jane or Jane Actually, but Becoming Jane. Throughout the movie, Jane has a constant battle with society. The society and culture in which she lives believes that a women should “marry wisely” sometimes even throwing aside love for marrying a man that is financially stable above all else. Jane doesn’t want this and the movie delves deeply into her journey and battle against society to find a man she actually loves.
As I said before, the movie simply isn’t about being, but becoming. Quite obviously the Jane Austen at the beginning of the film, the Jane that wakes her family on a Sunday morning with her joyous piano playing, is very different from the Jane at the end of the film: a woman who has been weathered by life and love and uses these experiences to create art that imitates life.
In my opinion, the difference between someone who simply exists and someone who is on a journey of maturation (like that of Jane) is the refusal to be ordinary and give in to what the society at large thinks one should do or be in order to be successful. At one point in the film, Jane visits a successful authoress who says that the secret to her success is that she “writes of what life is not.” Jane dislikes this idea as well because she believes that one should “write of the heart” and of life and emotions the way that they actually exist.
Jane’s refusal to be ordinary serves as the most powerful lesson of the film. Humans should not simply exist. To only be would deny the capability to be fully human. Although Jane Austen’s journey in the film was not a Christian journey by any means, those who claim Christ should be on a journey to develop into the people God desires them to be, never satisfied with being ordinary. Bill Hybels describes this as a feeling of “holy discontent.”
Because of her refusal to live inside the world’s mold, the Jane Austen of Becoming Jane never married. Perhaps those who don’t live by the ideologies of the culture at large will miss out on a few things, but I can guarantee that misery will come if people don’t choose to live a full life … making full use of their talents and abiding by their convictions.