Hopeful White and Unsettling Black: The Innocents

        It is highly appropriate that the 1961 film, The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton and based on The Turn of the Screw (1898), written by Henry James, was filmed in black and white. The whole film seems to be a struggle, as in good versus evil, innocence versus corruption and so on. The black and while cinematography helps to fully capture this world of supposed "ghosts" and evil occurrences, as contrasted to "innocent" children and an new, suspicious governess. The black and white photography of the film also helps to reveal stark symbolism for good versus evil throughout the course of the film.

         There are many scenes in The Innocents that involve flowers, particularly roses. These roses appear white in the film, which only leads one to think of innocence and purity. The roses appear all over the house at Bly, in the garden, and even on Miss Jessel's (Clytie Jessop) grave. These roses are quite vibrant and lovely at the beginning of the movie, and the children's uncle (Michael Redgrave) even wears a rose on his lapel when he meets Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr). The roses seem to symbolize the innocence of Miss Giddens as she starts out as governess. Yet, as the film progresses, the meaning of the roses seems to change. Slowly, every time the viewer spots Miss Giddens and the white roses, he or she sees the petals begin to fall. The roses come more to symbolize death and destruction rather than innocence, purity, and hope.

         Even as the roses symbolize many things throughout the movie, there are also many other things that come to symbolize the opposite of innocence and purity. This is especially noted by the amount of reptiles and insects that are present. These creatures contrast with the beauty of the roses and further seem to suggest evil and unrest in the household at Bly. I found it especially unnerving when I watched the insect crawl out of the flower and scare Miss Giddens. This seemed to me to foreshadow the end of the film, as things got progressively more creepy and unsettling. The emphasis appeared to me to go from white to black, which only indicated that something is inevitably very wrong at Bly.

         I think it is interesting how the director, Jack Clayton, used black and white as symbols in The Innocents. The roses and the use of insects and reptiles help foreshadow the plot, and give the audience a sense of the drama of the story. I think also that this treatment of the film made it more scary and exciting. I was continually surprised by the movie, even though I had already read the book. This is why I enjoyed watching The Innocents.

Megan Locke

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