A voice speaks, a bird squalls, a tune is played…but are they real? Is it just a figment of the imagination, or are these sounds, in fact, actually heard? This question must be considered after observing Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) in Jack Clayton's 1961 film, The Innocents. In comparison to Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, The Innocents presents the appearance of ghosts, apparitions, and accompanying whispers of such spirits wandering about. So, exactly what should one make of it?
We know for sure what Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) makes of all the sights and sounds. She is terrified and "knows" that the ghosts (in question) exist. Furthermore, she is intent on getting rid of the ghosts Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) as their purpose is to control and possess the young children Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin) in the house. (I must remind you that Miss Giddens has just arrived at the house as a governess, so everything is still quite new to her.) Yet, she "knows" that the ghosts are after the children, and that the children can see them. However, the children never reveal any knowledge of the ghosts to her or the readers--do they, then, see the ghosts?
After reading the novella, we almost conclude that the children never see the ghosts. We have no indication that they have seen them; only the governess says they 'must' have seen them. In the Innocents, however, there may be some reason left to doubt. The children are constantly together and are heard giggling--but, what could they be giggling over--the ghosts perhaps? Are they trying to trick Miss Giddens? After all, in the beginning of the film, Flora tells Miss Giddens that Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins) has said to "ignore the sounds, or you will imagine things." So, was it imagination, or was Flora planting an idea in Miss Giddens' head so that she would be skeptical of the house and all that was within?
Then, one is left to wonder if Miss Giddens just was not mentally stable to begin with. When she first arrived at the house, she began hearing voices; and she heard birds (yes, the birds were always heard screeching whenever she was among the garden, looking toward an apparition, or when the room was dark and she was all alone.) I, personally, was just waiting for a swarm of seagulls to come down and attack Miss Giddens just as the woman is attacked in Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 The Birds. The music set about the eeriness of the house and the certainty that something strange was about to happen.
One, also, in watching the film is constantly drawn to the tune I shall give to Flora-the tune she always hums, whistles, and plays the piano to-the same tune that rings out from within the music box she always has with her. What might this suggest? Miss Giddens picks up on this same tune and begins to wonder if it might be linked to the ghosts. The audience, on the other hand, wonders if the child is playing a game. Certainly, Miss Giddens is in deep, if one considers the level of her involvement in finding out about these odd ghostly figures and sounds that they might emit. It almost seems that Miss Giddens is possessed with the children rather than the children being possessed by a ghost. She seems so worried over these ghosts that are not even suggested to actually exist or to be bothering the children. The children do not complain of ghosts, so why is Miss Giddens complaining of them, and how they are out to attack the children?
I personally believe now, that there are no ghosts and never were. It seems that Miss Giddens just needed something to worry about. Being in a huge house, alone during the day, a person would definitely start to hear voices, screeching, and other sounds. But it may just be noise coming through an open window, a creaking floorboard of such an old house, or maybe the person hearing the sounds placed them there him/herself to fill in a gap of emptiness that might be felt when one enters a strange place. In the case of Miss Giddens, I believe that she placed the sounds in her head, and then, began to associate other sounds to that of a ghost's whisper. The screeching birds-those were just common birds chirping during the day, and their echo lingered in Miss Giddens' head. The voices-those were the children whispering or the housekeepers among themselves, and again an echo remained in Miss Giddens' head. Just because a sound is heard that certainly does not mean it is real.
Now, I leave it up to you and your interpretation. Was Miss Giddens actually hearing real sounds or imagining them? Furthermore, were there actually ghosts, or did Miss Giddens confuse a shadow of her own self in candle light with that of a ghostly figure?…Maybe we ourselves are imagining what we think has occurred in the novella and the play. I believe one can never know for sure what goes on inside another's head regardinginterpretation of what is read vs. what is viewed--what is imagined vs. what is reality.