Uncertainty Is Sometimes Best

     Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, is, in my opinion, great because it presents an ambiguously disturbing plot that leaves the reader pondering the lines between reality and the imagination. Before watching Jack Clayton's 1961 movie The Innocents (which is based on William Archibald's 1950 play version of James's novella), I feared that the film version may make the wonderful uncertainty of the novella too clear--by losing the ambiguity of the plot and replacing it with the scriptwriters', director's, and producer's own interpretation of the play. However, I was extremely pleased after seeing the movie, which was wonderfully done, because the same sense of mystery that James was able to capture was present in the film.

     The most celebrated aspect of the film (to me anyway) was that we saw the ghosts through the eyes of the governess (played by Deborah Kerr). We were given a view limited to her during these moments. For instance, when we actually saw the ghost of Flora's (Pamela Franklin) late governess (Clytie Jessop), we were aware that we were only being presented with an image of what the governess saw, which may or may not have been what actually existed.

     By using this perspective, the director was able to preserve the uncertainty of the story, which essentially creates the eerie, intriguing nature of the play. We are allowed to see the ghosts, so we know that they exist to the governess; but no one else sees them. So, viewers are left to determine whether or not the ghosts are real, just as readers of James's novella are.

     I am very happy that the film adaptation maintained such a wonderful sense of mystery. Sometimes, not knowing what is real is scarier even than knowing something dreadful. The uncertainty of the film, in my opinion, makes it just as successful as the novella.

Shannon Ursrey

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