Innocence Corrupted

         The 1961 Jack Clayton film The Innocents does an excellent job of rendering this classic, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, into a visually stimulating classic in its own right. In The Turn of the Screw the central character, the governess Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), feels so isolated that she will do anything necessary to quench the feeling of loneliness. The governess decides that the way to do so is to be in love. Thus, she takes a position with a man she does not know prior to her hire. Unfortunately, because she is located in Bly, such a desire is not possible to actualize. When the governess realizes this, she begins to manifest her unrequited feelings in the shape of ghostly apparitions. Her point of view also plays an important role in how the reader observes the ghosts. Subconsciously, the governess has chosen to be an unreliable narrator, seeing fantastical phantoms which participate in an enamored relationship that allows her to feel as though she herself was a part of it. When the governess becomes tired with these ghosts, however, she turns to other characters to fulfill her aspiration.

         The children become her obsession. The governess's fears focus almost entirely on the potential "corruption" of the children--whether they were corrupted by Quint (Peter Wyngarde) and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) when the latter were alive and whether they continue to be similarly corrupted by the ghosts. Before she even knows about Quint, the governess guesses that Miles (Martin Stephens) has been accused of corrupting other children. Although the word "corruption" is a euphemism that permits the governess to remain vague about what she means, the clear implication is that corruption means exposure to knowledge of sex. For the governess, the children's exposure to knowledge of sex is a far more terrifying prospect than confronting the living dead or being killed. Her quest to keep the children from this awful prospect lends her to question them about everything they know or have seen, regarding this corruption. Her fear of innocence being corrupted seems to be a big part of the reason she approaches the problem so indirectly--it is not just that the ghosts are unmentionable but that what the ghosts have said to them or introduced them to is unspeakable.

         Although the governess attempts to help the children seem admirable, they are more destructive than good. She is certainly the least experienced and possibly the most curious regarding sex. The governess is singularly horrified by Miss Jessel's sexual infraction and apparently fascinated by it as well. We might conclude that the governess's fear of the children's corruption represents her projection of her own fears and desires regarding sex onto the children.

Josh Coffey

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