The True Turn of the Screw

     Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, is an excellent story of a young woman who takes a position as a governess and believes that the two children and the house she is to look after are haunted by two spirits. The story makes one consider the possibility of spirits haunting the house and influencing the children, but the story also leaves one guessing whether or not the ghosts are real or if the governess is in actuality crazy. While reading this story, I was anticipating viewing the film based on this novel, the 1961 Jack-Clayton-directed film The Innocents.

     When I came to class and watched the film, I realized that something had been lost, besides the obvious introduction by a narrator telling the story to a group of people (which was written in James's book but omitted from the film). What I noticed was that I was no longer guessing whether or not the ghosts were real; it seemed as though the film explicitly stated that the ghosts were real, and that there was no more than a minute possibility that the governess (Deborah Kerr) was imagining them. Maybe it was the fact that on film I could see the ghosts. Maybe it was the way Miles (Martin Stephens) seemed possessed by Quint's (Peter Wyngarde) spirit. Maybe it was the way that not only the governess could see the ghost but also the children seemed to see the ghosts. Whatever it was, it left me with no questions about the ghosts' existence.

     Then a few weeks after viewing this film, I was walking through my hometown video store and came across a box in the horror section. The name on the box was Turn of the Screw. I decided to rent this film and take it home to view, reasoning that it would make a good comparison to the other film. As I was watching this film, the 1992 film directed by Rusty Lemorande, I noticed some great differences from the previous film. First, the introductory sequence of the narrator telling the story to a group, as written in Henry James's novella, was included as opposed to the earlier film's omission of this scene. Another large difference I noticed between the two films is that this film seemed to delve into the madness of the governess and say the ghosts are a part of that madness as opposed to the earlier film's embracing the ghosts. In this version of the story the governess dreams of the ghosts every night, she is the only one to ever see the ghosts (besides the audience), she seems to be obsessed with the children and the ghosts, and seems to be an all-around nutcase. By the end of the film I had already decided that the governess was crazy and that the ghosts could not be real.

     After seeing these two films, and being slightly disappointed by the lack of questioning the ghosts' existence and the governess' sanity, I am left pondering a new question: not whether or not the ghosts of The Turn of the Screw are real, but rather whether or not a film can portray James's novel accurately, leaving the audience questioning.

Nolan Patton

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