Saturday, October 24, 2009

Casablanca, Jane Eyre, and the Parable of the Vineyard

This is a post I've been wanting to write for quite a while now!

WARNING: It will have some spoilers for Jane Eyre and Casablanca!

It all started about a year ago, when I finally saw the movie Jane Eyre and then read the book. One of my friends had scared me off from reading the book, saying that it was terrible because Mr Rochester tried to marry Jane when he already had a wife. However, a few years later my family decided to watch the movie, enjoyed it very much, and then I read the book. I was greatly impressed by it - I found it to be very religious in a very good way.

However, I've heard a lot of people complain that they don't like it because it's "immoral". I don't find it immoral at all, and I'll tell you why. I'll warn you that I haven't read the book in a while, so some of the finer points may be slightly off, but I'll do my best.

Nowhere in the book is Mr Rochester's wrong behavior condoned. At the beginning of the book, we find him a rough, somewhat bitter man. He swears, he doesn't bother to be polite to people, but Jane likes him nonetheless and sees that there is a better man underneath his scaly exterior. She likes him in spite of his sins, not because of them.

When the full extent of his wrongdoings is revealed and Jane discovers he was about to commit bigamy, she wastes no time in removing herself from his house. She won't let him touch her, not even to say goodbye. He belongs to another woman, even if this woman is out of her mind. Jane knows what is right and wrong, and like the strong person she is, she leaves him, even though this cuts her to the heart and makes her feel that it will kill her.

Mr Rochester pleads with her to stay; he even offers to live with her as brother and sister. Jane knows that this will be too much of a temptation and she steadily refuses. Nowhere does Charlotte Bronte give the impression that Jane was wrong in doing this. We know that she has made the right choice, even though it's almost unbearably difficult.

In the end, we can love Mr Rochester because he is redeemed. During the fire that consumes his home, he has the perfect chance to simply let his wife perish in the flames. Everyone would think she had simply been trapped, and he then could marry his true love. But no. In his moment of redemption, Mr Rochester risks his own life to save the life of his wife, who ends up flinging herself from the roof. He suffers for his sins as the fire blinds him and robs him of one arm, but he has changed. The true, noble man has broken through, and he ends up with his heart's desire - his Jane; a family and home of his own, not haunted by fearful memories; and he even regains his sight.

We watched Casablanca a few weeks ago, and during a conversation with one of my friends over text messaging a few days later, I discovered some parallels between these two stories. She had just watched it also, and had several problems with it - namely, Ilsa's love affair with Rick so soon after the supposed death of her husband, Ilsa going to Rick the first night she and Laszlo are in Casablanca, and Rick himself. I was going to copy down what I replied in my texts, but I forgot and deleted them. :P Oh well, I think I'll remember.

Well, first off, I looked the problem my friend had with Ilsa falling in love with Rick right after she had heard that her husband Laszlo was dead, especially since it turned out he wasn't dead at all. I pointed out that, as far as Ilsa knew, Laszlo was dead and gone forever.

Rick was a very different sort of man in those days than when we meet him as the owner of a saloon in the beginning of the movie - he was brave, idealistic, and fought for the same things that Laszlo did. Ilsa loved Laszlo very much, but as far as I could tell, he was quite a bit older than her, and she was very young when she married him. She loved and admired him, but Rick was someone of her own age, who rather similar to Laszlo himself. She wanted to try and forget the sorrow of her husband's death, and being young, and, as my mum pointed out, IN PARIS, she fell in love with Rick.

Was this the most virtuous and correct thing she could have done? Probably not. But do we always do the most correct thing? No, we don't, and movies usually try to mirror real life. But before you're shocked and it seems that I'm condoning immoral behavior in movies or out of them, keep reading and you'll see.

When Ilsa got the letter informing her that Laszlo was alive, she left Rick immediately, even though this caused her, like Jane, considerable pain and heartbreak. She knew she had to return to her husband, and that in doing this she would probably never see Rick again, but she left him anyway.

Fast forward 10 years. The war is almost over, and the Nazis are hunting down the people who have been helping the Jews and other persecuted minorities. Laszlo and Ilsa end up in Casablanca, and out of all the saloons they could have walked into, they walk into Rick's.

This brings us to my friend's other objection: Ilsa going to see Rick the night after they arrived in Casablanca and she saw him again. Well, this was not a good move on Ilsa's part, but I can nonetheless see why she did it. She really loved Rick , and love can blind people. The interview was unsatisfactory to her, though, for she found him very changed - he had become a bitter, self-absorbed man. She left quickly, even though he wanted her to stay. It was also a blind move of Ilsa's when she went to Rick the night Laszlo went to the secret meeting, but once again, though not a good act, it was understandable.

At the end of the movie, however, we see that Rick has recovered his nobility - like Mr Rochester, his moment of redemption comes. He chooses virtue over love, and urges Ilsa to go with Laszlo. He sees that Laszlo needs her more than he ever will, and besides, Ilsa is his wife. Ilsa still loves Rick and doesn't want to leave him, but she loves Laszlo too and know that, in the end, it will be better for her to go with him.

So now we come to the parable. Matthew 20: 1 - 16 (Douay Rheims version)


HE kingdom of heaven is like to an householder, who went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
2. And having agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

3. And going out about the third hour, he saw others standing in the marketplace idle.
4. And he said to them: Go you also into my vineyard, and I will give you what shall be just.
5. And they went their way. And again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did in like manner.

6. But about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing, and he saith to them: Why stand you here all the day idle?
7. They say to him: Because no man hath hired us. He saith to them: Go ye also into my vineyard.

8. And when evening was come, the lord of the vineyard saith to his steward: Call the labourers and pay them their hire, beginning from the last even to the first.
9. When therefore they were come that came about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.

10. But when the first also came, they thought that they should receive more: And they also received every man a penny.

11. And receiving it they murmured against the master of the house,
12. Saying: These last have worked but one hour. and thou hast made them equal to us, that have borne the burden of the day and the heats.
13. But he answering said to one of them: friend, I do thee no wrong: didst thou not agree with me for a penny?

14. Take what is thine, and go thy way: I will also give to this last even as to thee.

15. Or, is it not lawful for me to do what I will? Is thy eye evil, because I am good?
16. So shall the last be first and the first last. For many are called but few chosen.

This parable states clearly that, even if someone has sinned greatly and for many years, if they truly repent and change their life they will be saved just the same as someone who has followed God faithfully all their life. This may not seem fair to us down below, but who can know the mind of God? We have to trust that this is the best way, and it is certainly a very comforting thought for a converting sinner.

So that is what makes Jane Eyre and Casablanca good stories, even if the people in them are seriously flawed at the beginning. They repent; they have a redeeming moment; they realize the error of their ways and convert to a life of goodness. We are all sinners, some more than others, but everyone has a chance to see the error of their ways and change them. That is one thing can be learned from this book and this movie.


Rosie Bear said...

Great reviews, especially on Jane Eyre! That's exactly what I'm always trying to tell people! :)
Also, if you likes the morals in Jane Eyre, you'd LOVE The Tenant of Wildfell Hall!

Lady Blanche Rose said...

Thank you so much!

Hmmm, I've never heard of "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" - who is it by? I'll have to check it out!

Rosie Bear said...

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is by Anne Bronte, Charlotte Bronte's little sister! ;)