Minding the Mind

         The effectiveness of the 1951 film The Innocents, as directed by Jack Clayton, lies not in some cheesy Jaws-like score of ominous foreboding or even the simpleminded grotesqueness one might envision for a ghost; but the effectiveness of the film lies wholly in its subtlety, its smooth transitional imagery of a lonesome inhabitance within the countryside of England. The idyllic setting provides a wonderful juxtaposition with that of the horrifying workings of a possibly deranged mind. Despite the time period of the film, a time long before the birth of many contemporary viewers, the story nonetheless provides a bridge of empathy that connects any self-contemplating living soul with that of the characters originally made fleshy by Henry James in his 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, but adapted to the big screen through the insightful talents of Truman Capote and John Mortimer, who enhanced the original play, The Innocents, written in 1950 by William Archibald.

         In regard to the film's commonly allocated genre as a tale of spiritual encounters, it perhaps would be prudent for us to allocate it to that of a psychological thriller. Indeed, it is the mental stability of the main character, Miss Giddens, as played by Deborah Kerr, which acts as the driving force that continually keeps one on the edge of his seat. Despite the fact that we actually witness the supposed spirits of Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop), we by no large feat can easily regard them as merely hallucinations since we witness them but through the eyes of Miss Giddens. In fact, Capote and Mortimer knowingly altered a small portion of the novella's original plot in order to augment our suspicions of Miss Giddens' credibility as a medium. It would be prudent to mention that the governess, while named Miss Giddens in the movie, had originally been created by Henry James for his novella as a certain mystery woman whose actual name we never learned. Her being unnamed perhaps aided our doubting the credibility of her recollections as presented by the novella. In the novella, as originally dictated by Henry James, Miss Giddens stumbles upon a picture of Peter Quint only after her encounter with his "ghost" during one of her leisurely strolls in the growing twilight. However, in the movie, she is cutting flowers in the garden, when she spots a large bug crawling out of the mouth of a statue, which unsettles her right before she squints into the bright sunlight and spies a vague figure on the tower, which makes her drop her scissors in the water. One could assume that the bug which startled Miss Giddens did not just appeared to her as only a bug but an omen of evil to come. Later on, she first stumbles upon a locket containing a picture of Quint before ever seeing his aberration, which indeed resembles the picture, close up through the window.

         The psychology one can practice through the study of this film makes the film so much more mature had it been produced simply as a ghost story. While certainly Henry James's novella also toys with the mind, I believe that due to the contemporaneous of Capote and Mortimer, they repackage the story in a way that delivers an extra ounce of oomph that piques our modern sensibilities.

John Couris

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