The Turn of the Screw and The Innocents: A Good Ghost Story, Real or No

         Some classic stories have an ambiguous nature to them. The meanings of such stories get some people really into discussion, while others feel that something that is unclear to them turns them off. It can be expected that if a writer makes his work too confusing, the audience will not like it. The Turn of the Screw, written in 1898 by Henry James, is right there on the brink. It tells a sort of ghost story that, because of its ambiguous nature, lends itself well to discussion.

         The way the story itself is told adds some unclearness to the audience’s understanding of the situation. The Turn of the Screw is told through the eyes of someone who is hearing the story of the governess, who is only known by that name, through someone else. She takes a job caring for a boy named Miles, and a girl named Flora and is asked not to contact their uncle. The main thing that is discussed from this story the most though is if the ghosts that the governess sees are real or figments of her imagination.

         After reading The Turn of the Screw and watching The Innocents, the 1961 film version directed by Jack Clayton, I find that it is still unclear to the audience. The film version relieves some of the unclearness from the novel because it is not told through the use of a narrator. It is always presented through the governess’s (Deborah Kerr) eyes so the audience is seeing what she is seeing whether it is real or not. The audience members are never faced with the question until they think about it after the fact because the whole story is presented through the governess’s eyes.

         There are reasons I would like to think that the ghosts are real. For one, we see them. That is a good reason to me. Another reason is the tone of the film is dark, the typical tone of a ghost story. Also the children, Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin) do seem to become more strange or corrupt as the governess suggests. This might be the ghosts’ purpose for coming back to haunt them, to live through the children.

         In the end, I think James wanted us to be conflicted about the story, and he did a good job of keeping things just right. The actors in the film version were very well. The inclusion of the “Willow Waley” song was an extra treat in the film version that one does not get from the novel. Overall I liked this movie for these reasons. It is still good as a classic, and it must have been excellent when it first came out. It is a good story and a good movie whether the ghosts are real or not.

Brian Schuldt

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