Friday, October 09, 2020

15 Favorite Horror Movies: The Innocents (1961)

I wrote in detail about The Innocents a few months ago, so this is a modified version of that earlier review. 

Henry James' The Turn of the Screw has been adapted a lot, but this is the definitive, classic, film version of it. I've watched it three times this year, because like the novel it's based on, it haunts me. I can't stop thinking about it, wondering what and how much it's trying to say and what I need to do with what it doesn't say. 

It's about a governess who moves to a remote mansion in the English countryside to take care of a couple of children, but she starts seeing what she believes are the ghosts of former workers at the estate. Are the ghosts real? Is the governess insane? Even though I came to some answers to those questions where the novel is concerned, those same answers don't necessarily have to apply to director Jack Clayton's adaptation of it.

Clayton's adaptation, based on a script that was touched by a few people, including Truman Capote and Clayton himself, keeps the basic premise and setting of the novel, but also makes some notable changes. It raises the age of the main character (Deborah Kerr), which is significant, and it muddies her mental state by removing scenes from the book and having the governess react differently to some things.

A big example is how it casts ambiguity on the existence of the ghosts by almost always showing the governess' reaction to the ghosts before seeing the ghosts themselves. When we see them, are we only seeing them through her eyes? The film also adds a scene where the governess sees a photo of a deceased groundskeeper before she sees his ghost. How much has her vision of his spirit been influenced by the photograph? She never sees a photo of the former governess, but when she sees that ghost it's always at a distance and with unclear features.

There are a couple of other big changes, but they're spoilery, so I won't go into detail. What's clear though is that Clayton wanted to leave viewers options in interpreting the film. Even the title can be taken a couple of different ways. Does it apply to the entire household (including the governess) or just the kids? If it's just the children, does the title claim that they're truly innocent as the mansion's housekeeper Mrs Grose insists? If that's true, it makes the governess' paranoid treatment of them even more tragic. Or is the title ironic and the children have already been somehow corrupted by the deceased groundskeeper and former governess?

However we interpret it, as pure film-making, The Innocents is superb and deserves its status as a classic. When Truman Capote took a run at the script, he added a lot of symbolism about death and decay: wilting roses everywhere and bugs crawling out of statues' mouths. And Clayton and cinematographer Freddie Francis create a creepy, haunting atmosphere that makes The Innocents as much an icon of gothic cinema as James' story is of gothic literature.

1 comment:

Nikhil S said...

Netflix has the latest adaptation of the same as the house at Blymore.


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