Unavoidable Scars

     All of us reach a point, a moment in our lives, when we question ourselves: our security, our decisions, our sanity. Yet when we pose these questions about what is the reason, do we really even have one? For the governess in Henry James's 1898 The Turn of the Screw, turned into a play, The Innocents, in 1950 by William Archibald, and filmed in 1961 as The Innocents by director Jack Clayton, that is exactly the point she has reached in her life, a point where she is questioning everything she knows, even her sanity.

     She has recently uprooted herself from everything that evokes even a shred of comfort or security. As she attempts to create a new home, everything around her is causing conflicting emotions. The uncle, her new employer, presents a cold and uncaring front, while Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins in the film), her fellow employee, welcomes her with open arms. Her impression of the uncle is somewhat skewed, since in the novella, she meets him only twice before she takes the job, then never again. In the play she, now named Miss Giddens, never meets him as opposed to the movie in which she (Deborah Kerr) has a short albeit unsettling meeting with the uncle (Michael Redgrave).

     The children also create an unsettling feeling since they unnaturally exude innocence and happiness, which is contrasted by the fact that they contain knowledge beyond their years, causing an undeniable sense of evil. The children present an interesting element to this story of confusion and suspense. From the description of them in the novella, they are blond angelic looking children; this is an interesting contrast to the fact that they are less than angelic, not to mention the whole tone of the novella and play is ominous. The movie, however, presents the children (Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin) as dark-haired beauties, easy on the eye, not necessarily on the spirit. Whether we are looking at the play or movie, we must realize that this is a story that has many levels, and what one sees is rarely all that there is.

     All her life this governess had been surrounded by a large loving family who were open with each other. Here she is forced to face a family who have as little contact as possible with each other, and secrets are expected. She can only back-peddle. She is facing a family who abide by rules she cannot fathom, coupled with a house that only adds to the "unnatural" situation. The whole time she is being expected to provide a solid and loving education for the two children. In the movie she hears voices, which only add to the eerie feelings that plague the poor woman. Who would not question oneself? The book alludes to the insanity she feels she is suffering from; the movie makes it a pivotal aspect of the story. Either way, she is pressured from outside unnatural forces that would try anyone. Being in a situation where she is questioning what she knows versus what she is experiencing, what she feels versus what she is seeing, what she has been told versus what she is expected to find out, she finds all of these compounded to stress her mind.

     With all this confusion, deception, and mystery, it would be impossible not to crack. The children taunt her with their innocent demeanor and questionable activities. The stories of Quint torment her with apparitions, as opposed to the movie with a slightly more tangible version (as played by Peter Wyngarde). Her own doubt tease her with her sanity. Who knows whether or not the ghosts were real? To her they are, and the torture is that coming out of the situation unscathed is impossible.

Melissa Stacy

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