Didn't Your Parents Ever Tell You There Are No Such Things as Ghosts?

         The 1898 book The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, differs from its 1961 movie counterpart The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton, in one important way. The book gives the reader the impression that the ghosts are not real, while the film makes it quite obvious that they are real.

         While reading the book, the reader is wondering if the ghosts seen by the governess are real or not. After finishing the novella, I was pretty well convinced that the ghosts were a figment of the governess' imagination. It is this ambiguity that made the novella such a good read. Is the governess going crazy? Are the ghosts after the children? Do the children really see the ghosts? Most modern horror movies go for the cheap scare. The boogeyman jumping out from the shadows or knife-wielding psycho is absent from this film and all for the better. Sometimes subtlety is more frightening.

         On the other hand, the movie version left one with the impression that the ghosts were in fact real. How else could Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) have described the man she saw on the rooftop who later turns out to be Quint (Peter Wyngarde)? Why did Miles (Martin Stephens) try and choke Miss Giddens in the attic? The children in the movie were just downright creepy. Who kisses his governess as Miles did? Yuck. Surely Miss Giddens was not crazy until she was around those two children twenty-four hours a day.

         It is my feeling that Henry James wanted the reader to make up his or her own mind as to whether or not the ghosts in the book are real. It was hard to decide, and this is why James's book is a classic. I do not think James would have been happy with the way the movie made the decision for the viewer as to whether the ghosts were real or not.

Adam Hlava

Table of Contents