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Jane Eyre – Movies For Lawyers – The Act Of Communication Point Of View


There are so many reasons to run, not walk to see JANE EYRE: brilliant storytelling, amazing performances, visually breathtaking, extraordinary score.  An attorney can learn from all of these elements of this fantastic film. I am going to concentrate on yet another one: language.  I think that I learned more about language from this film – specifically – the way that people in crisis speak about their lives – than in any other film I’ve seen in my 59 years.

I don’t know what your relationship is with the novel Jane Eyre. Mine spans several decades. In the summer between 7th and 8th grade my friend Jessie Murray said, “Let’s read all of The Brontës and all of Dickens”. We read all of The Brontës and only a couple of Dickens as I recall.  The result is that I have a rather limited and youthful first impression of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, David Copperfield, etc. etc. etc.  I have read Jane Eyre since, and, of course am a big fan of the film from the forties and the most recent British television import.

Again and again, year after year, adaptation after adaptation I was left with the impression of a lot of very suppressed people who are too shut down emotionally to express themselves in words.  Sound familiar?  How often do I work with an attorney whose chief complaint about a witness is, “Won’t talk – I don’t know why.”  Although this can be the case, often I find that witnesses are using all the words that they have to describe their lives and to tell their stories. I also find myself dealing with attorneys who want more – more words, “complete” paragraphs of testimony, perfectly turned phrases and language. 

When watching this amazing JANE EYRE, I realized almost immediately that I had been mistaken about the language of the novel and all those films and television shows for more than 45 years. There are no more words.  The characters are not suppressed from a lack of language – they are, each of them, saying all the words that there are in these highly charged emotional moments of their lives.

Is this because the director, Cary Joji Fukunaga brought his Japanese ancestry with him when he shot the film so that the acting lets us know that we need no more words?  Or because the screenwriter, Moira Buffini comes from the tradition of the British theater?  At any rate, I feel like a might really understand haiku as an art form that can be adapted for the stage and screen after seeing this film.

How does this apply to the courtroom? I often say that witnesses speak in poetry and the lawyers try to turn it into some very odd non-fiction narrative form.  JANE EYRE gave this lesson back to me brilliantly.  When you see the film, and you will, think about the “problem” witness you are working with right now.  If you are really daring, you will think about your oral arguments.  Nothing like only having 15 minutes to talk to a judge to keep you writing poetry rather than prose!

Tip: Think “spoken poetry” rather than “narration” when working with language for yourself and your witnesses.

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