Sensing Ghosts

                  The 1961 film The Innocents brings Henry James’s (1898) novella, The Turn of the Screw, to life. The movie clears up the confusion over the ghosts by making them decidedly exist, but with his careful directing Jack Clayton was careful not to eliminate the importance of the ghosts. The movie revolves around the question of what the ghosts are trying to do, and Clayton carefully makes sure the movie reminds us of the ghosts in nearly every scene.

         The most effective reminder of the ghosts the movie offers is to give the audience a sense that they are there. Clayton uses three different methods to accomplish this, including the most obvious way of clearly showing the ghosts. Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), for instance, early in the movie sees the ghost of Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) eerily moving closer to the house window as he peers in. This method of showing the ghosts helps build a sense of horror throughout the movie.

         Other times Clayton allows only a dull use of the senses. Several times the ghosts are only hazily shown, or muffled sounds are heard. In one scene Miss Giddens sees a hazy ghost of Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) and realizes that Flora (Pamela Franklin) is looking at her as well. Another time when Miss Giddens is running through the house looking for the children, she hears the ghosts all making their presence known, but she cannot find either them or the children. This really builds suspense and leaves the viewer on the edge of their seats.

         If Clayton focuses on unusual sounds and sights to build the horror and suspense during the movie, he draws attention to normal things to create an air of mystery. The movie uses things like the sound of a gust of wind or the moment of silence breaking out in nature to give suggestions that something is amiss. The movie’s focus on small, normal, but highly coincidental occurrences reveals the possibility of the ghosts’ presence. This is probably best captured when Miles (Martin Stephens) quotes a poem that could be understood as either simple child's play or mischievous involvements with the ghosts.

Andrew B. Hildenbrand

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