In This Case, Older Is Better

         In Hollywood, youth is everything. People go to extreme measures of dieting and plastic surgery in order to appear to defy age. Aging women actors especially fear for their careers, for movie producers chose beautiful young women over older women, and what is considered “old” is not old at all. Yet in the film The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton in 1961, the producers chose to go with an older actress, appearing at least ten years older than the character in Henry James’s novella The Turn of the Screw. For in the novella, which the film adapts, the governess is only twenty years old. However, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) in the film appears to be much older, possibly in her late thirties, and in this case, older is better.

         This change is actually very important in the success of the film adaptation, for the age difference even further embellishes the perverse tone of the novel. Even at the age of twenty, Miss Giddens’ actions would be inexcusable, yet naïveté could be somewhat of a scapegoat for her impetuous behavior. But at her age in the film, she should be more experienced and should behave in a professional manner, because it could be assumed that she had made a career of being a governess before this job.

         In the novella, the governess comes to the house full of excitement and wonder. For not only is she not used to a house of such grandeur and riches; but also, this is the first time she is leaving her family and starting a life on her own. As said in the movie version also, she comes from a large family and has numerous siblings sharing a small house. Privacy is unfamiliar to her, but drama and excitement between her siblings are very familiar. Therefore, coming into a large, spacious house sans a lot of action, a twenty- year-old girl can let her mind run wild and stir up some trouble. Again, this can be blamed on immaturity, lack of experience, and boredom. However, at the age Miss Giddens appears in the film, her actions are over-the-top.

         Because she does not have a life of her own at that age, no children nor husband, it seems as though she is transferring all of her energy and worth onto these children. She becomes obsessed with their “wellbeing” but ends up ruining them even more. Another reason why her age difference is more perverse is that, judging from her responses to Miles’ compliments, she has not had much experience with men thus far in her life. The way she lights up when she receives attention from the Miles (Martin Stevens) suggests lack of attention from males period. For this child is able to charm her so much at such a young age, that Miss Giddens immediately acknowledges it. Therefore, it can be assumed that she has had to repress much sexual desire over the years. Again, if Miss Giddens was only twenty years old, her kissing Miles would still be disgusting, but a little more understandable. Inexperience or lack of attention at twenty is normal, for she had not had much of a chance while living at home, so her sexual frustration would still exist, but not nearly as much as a forty- year old’s would be. Sexual repression and twisted desires seem to have influenced Miss Giddens when she kissed him. She told herself so many times, “But above anything else, I love the children,” and became obsessed with the idea of saving and ardently loving them, so much that she lost herself in the middle. She somehow muddled a parental love with an ardent love for Miles, because the kiss at the end was by no means platonic. The obsessive focus on the problem became so intense, that she lost touch with her wants, her desires, and her sanity.

         By the end of the movie, she is full-fledged out of her mind. Yet, it seems implausible for her to have been of absolute sound mind before she arrived at the mansion, for she would not plunge into lunacy so quickly. The events that occurred seemed to have been the catalyst for bringing out her mental illness. It is expected that Miss Giddens should have some baggage, unless she lived in a box, and her emotions from that baggage resurfaced from being the governess.

         In conclusion, the film would not have been nearly as perverse if Miss Giddens were a young girl like in the novella, and the vulgarity of the film is a huge element in the its uniqueness. The movie intends to be categorized in the horror genre, and the lunacy of Miss Giddens is what makes that possible. Therefore, this time the film makers made a good choice to cast an older actress in the role for the governess.

Sarah Landolt

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