The Innocents: A Flower Is Worth a Thousand Words

     Since film was created, we as a society have had the opportunity to view great works of literature and some original screenplays transformed into great cinematic works. Throughout the many romances, dramas and comedies that have come to life on the silver screen, there has always been the traditional plot of the hero and the villain, with a dramatic climax of the hero (as a symbol of good) defeating the villain (a symbol of evil). As decades have passed, however, there began a trend that turned away from constantly allowing good to win over evil. In my opinion, this became the classic concept of horror films. Indeed it was a horror to witness evil winning out against and shook the very core of audiences that viewed these films. Perhaps it was this mind set that caused the great work The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James (1898), to be adapted into the film version of The Innocents, by Jack Clayton (1961); and perhaps that is why it is considered a classic film today.

     Oftentimes within these "horror" films the audience has the opportunity to find foreshadowing, or clues that might lead them to believe that a particular character is not whom he or she claims to be and that there is trouble soon to follow. We find a wonderful example of clues, such as these in The Innocents through the use of flowers. This concept was so powerful that I felt the need to delve further into the meaning behind these mere set pieces. They bring a new level to the film adaptation that makes The Innocents more powerful than its novella predecessor.

     Immediately upon Miss Giddens'(Deborah Kerr) entrance into the home of young Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin), we have the opportunity to witness flowers in their vases literally wilt before our eyes whenever a child is present. However, the flowers are not our only clue that something is amiss. The temperature in a room would also become colder; and strange noises and sightings would usually occur after these "clues" appeared, and usually just before unusual sounds or sightings of the ghosts occurred.

     Perhaps the most powerful use of flowers and foreshadowing occurs during the ride home after Miles was picked up at the train station, where he was returning from boarding school. We see Miles hand Miss Giddens a bouquet of flowers; and later, during the carriage ride home, Flora throws them from the carriage. The audience then witnesses these beautiful wild flowers literally wilt to a dried, crumpled heap. This was the most poignant part of the film, completely epitomizing the evil that appears to have possessed the young children.

     Another example of flowers foreshadowing a frightening experience occurs when Miss Giddens is walking through the garden in the late afternoon, just before she sees Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) for the first time atop the castle wall. The camera focuses in on a small group of flowers; and, as the camera focuses in on Miss Giddens once again, the audience sees the flowers wilting behind her.

     So, was Clayton attempting to show the evil of the children and how good, living things (such as flowers, or even humans) are sure to perish if they are near evil long enough? Perhaps Miles and Flora were indeed evil, and it was not the effect of the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) attempting to possess them. These are the questions that both James and Clayton leave for the audience to decide, but the use of flowers in Clayton's great film puzzle and terrify with such an incredible power that it keeps those who view the film captivated to find the truth.

Ginny L. Snow

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