The Return of the Screw

         When I first researched reviews on Alejandro Amenabar's 2001 movie The Others, I was struck by constant references to Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, filmed in 1961 as The Innocents by Jack Clayton. When I finally read the novella, I was startled at the parallels between the two stories; it is clear that the movie was made with the novella in mind: both are ghost stories involving adults' suspicious of children's assertions. However, the situations are reversed completely, and while The Turn of the Screw and its movie counterpart present a disturbing view of children, The Others entails a healing of child/parents relationships which touches us even while it spooks us.

         The most obvious parallel between James's novella, plus Clayton's film, and Amenabar's film is the situation set-up: a big house, two children, a housekeeper, one parent (or, in the case of the novel, a parent figure-the governess), and alleged ghosts. In both stories, certain characters see ghosts that others claim not to see, and this is the point at which the conflict arises.

         In the book and movie version of The Turn of the Screw, the governess, named Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) in the film, sees ghosts which the children, Flora and Miles (Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens) claim not to see. It is questionable whether the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins) sees them, and her loyalties are suspect for that reason. In The Others, the children claim to see ghosts which the mother (Nicole Kidman) does not see. In this story also it is unclear what the housekeeper believes, and her loyalties, too, are suspect. Because the mother in The Others refuses to believe in ghosts, she believes her children's claims are lies. Because the governess in The Turn of the Screw sees the ghosts, she believes the children are lying by claiming not to see them. Although the ending of The Others reveals the surprise that the main characters are themselves the ghosts, the viewer learns that the mother had killed the children by smothering them with pillows-something that The Turn of the Screw suggests the governess did to Miles.

         In both stories, a prominent theme is the question of the children's innocence. By one interpretation of the story of The Turn of the Screw, both Miles and Flora are in league with the ghosts-appearing to see them and react to them without directly admitting it. Parts of The Others seem to implicate Anne in a similar way: she converses with the ghosts, even being channeled through the old lady in the scene where she dons her christening dress. She seems to be an expert on ghosts and shows a startling lack of fear that is contrasted with her little brother's terror. However, Anne eventually proves as ignorant about the truth as her brother and mother, when they all learn they themselves are the ghosts.

         Both stories succeed in spooking us, but both have different themes and different outcomes. And unlike The Turn of the Screw and The Innocents, in which the children/governess relationship deteriorates, The Others involves a restoration of the children's relationship with their mother, making the movie oddly satisfactory in its somewhat morbid ending.

Naomi Deardorff

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