The Existence of Ghosts

     The existence of ghosts in Henry James's 1898 The Turn of the Screw and William Archibald's 1950 play The Innocents, transformed into the 1960 film directed by Jack Clayton, have different possibilities, although they are the same story. The novel makes the ghosts exist only in Miss Giddens' mind, while the latter versions make the ghosts almost undeniable.

     The defense of a ghostless The Turn of the Screw has many points. First, the reader must remember that this is a story being told by a man who heard it from another man in front of a fireplace, while telling ghost stories. Secondhand information must taken for what it is, secondhand. The story might have had some truth to it in the beginning but has been added on to through the telling of it.

     In the novel, the unnamed governess is a woman of twenty who has not been away from her small home. She is thrust into a huge house with many dark rooms and given the responsibility of two small children. She is too young and unworldly to be accountable for claiming to see ghosts. Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, is also not reliable for information. She is an uneducated woman who cannot read. Without having any experience of seeing the ghosts, she believes the governess enough to take Flora away from the house. She also believes the ghosts must be Miss Jessel and Quint although she did not see them. Mrs. Grose cannot be believed for any information.

     The Innocents, however, had a different flavor especially in the movie. The story is a firsthand account from an older woman. She has been raised in a small house, but her older age gives her some credit. As played by Deborah Kerr, she is not the young girl in The Turn of the Screw. The audience can believe the older woman because she seems more reliable.

     The children in this adaptation are very different from those in The Turn of the Screw. They have changed from semi-normal children to possessed children. Miles and Flora speak and act like grown-ups, but they are only small children.

     Miles (Martin Stephens) seems to be possessed many times throughout the movie. Although he is not experienced on horses, he rides a white horse by himself. He also kisses Miss Giddens as a grown man would kiss her. Toward the end of the movie he curses at Miss Giddens although he claims to have made up the words. Miles has obviously been exposed to a sinister force to make him capable of these acts.

     Flora (Pamela Franklin) does not show her possession as clearly as Miles. In one instance, however, she is able to row a boat across the lake. This would be impossible for the small girl to do by herself. When Miss Giddens finds her she is dancing by herself, the way she and Miss Jessel use to dance.

     The use of Miss Jessel's music box also suggests an evil presence. Flora hums the tune but claims to not remember where she heard it from. Miles almost strangles Miss Giddens when he finds her looking at it with Quint's picture laying inside. The box is also there when Miss Giddens finds Flora dancing by the lake.

     Showing the ghosts visually in the movie also made them seem more real. Even though Mrs. Grose (Meg Jenkins) did not see the ghosts, the audience did and felt more sympathy for Miss Giddens. Also, the tear found on the chalkboard seemed like proof of Miss Jessel's presence.

     Although The Innocents is based on The Turn of the Screw, two different stories are told. With a few minor changes in the story, a whole another aspect of the work was put together, one of a young woman losing her mind, and another of the presence of evil ghosts.

Angie Butler

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