It would seem there is an ongoing debate as to whether or not the ghosts in the Henry James 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, and its 1961 cinematic adaptation, directed by Jack Clayton, actually exist. However, despite the fact that James and the film makers try planting a bit of doubt in the readers'/viewers' minds, I am still convinced that the governess was a classic paranoid schizophrenic.
It is my opinion that the governess suffered from severe psychological delusions triggered by the onset of schizophrenia, and the ghosts were merely a product of her illness. The same diagnosis could be given to Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), the governess in the 1961 movie The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton. According to the Ohio State University Medical Center, approximately 1% of the general population is diagnosed with schizophrenia each year. A person with schizophrenia may experience a distorted perception of reality, confused thinking, detailed and bizarre thoughts and ideas, suspiciousness and/or paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, extreme moodiness, and severe anxiety and/or fearfulness. The governess displayed quite a few of these active symptoms throughout the novella and the film.
Schizophrenia is usually prompted by a major milestone or transition in one's life. In the 2001 film based on the life of famous mathematician John Nash, entitled A Beautiful Mind and directed by Ron Howard, the main character, John Nash (Russell Crowe), has his first schizophrenic episode after moving away from home and beginning graduate school. It could be hypothesized that, when the governess moved so far from home into isolation at the estate in the country, her schizophrenia began to emerge.
In both the novella and film, one is constantly questioning the sanity of the governess. However, despite attempts of James and the film makers to try planting a bit of doubt in the readers'/viewers' minds, I am still convinced that the governess was a classic paranoid schizophrenic. The governess suffered from hallucinations; she thought she kept seeing the ghosts of Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop). Eventually she began to experience delusions of the children, Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin), being possessed by the ghosts. With each passing day she grew more and more paranoid that the children were plotting against her and planning her demise until she was driven to cause the breakdown of Flora and the demise of Miles.