Sunday, July 20, 2014

[BOOK + MOVIE]: The Turn of the Screw and The Innocents

In BOOK + MOVIE, I feature one book and its film adaptation(s) and tell you if the movie versions are as good as the source material. I'm quite aware that films & novels are different mediums, but I'm only comparing the general mood and how it affects me as a reader & viewer.

With a plethora of movies nowadays with "I-betcha-didn't-see-that-coming" plots, sometimes, I just wanna think that The Innocents is just a simple ghost story. But after reading Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, I'm convinced that there's more to the story than ghosts or delusional protagonists. The way James wrote almost everything in an ambiguous way that forces the readers to decide and convince themselves what really happened makes this one of the best novella of its kind that I've read.

Author:  Henry James
Year Published:  1898
# of pages: 157
Genre:  novella, horror gothic fiction
Country:  U.K., U.S.
Baffling us by clearly indicating that the main character could be unstable, and the one character that supports her could also be unreliable in a way that it's clear she's submissive, while supplying us with sufficient head-scratching moments coming from the uncannily intuitive children, makes us reconsider the plausibility of otherworldly presence in the house.

Are there really ghosts? Or are there just loose screws in The Governess' head? That's just what makes this story stand out.

It really doesn't matter if The Governess (Miss Giddens in the movie) is seeing ghosts or purely imagining everything. We, the readers, are obviously meant to be confused and guessing. Maybe it's a mix of both paranormal and psychological. What really struck me most about this, is the story within the story. What's actually being told in bits and pieces. The untold story. SPOILERS AHEAD: What's up with Peter Quint & Miss Jessel? What are their links to the house & to the children? And what is the cause of Miles' expulsion from his school? Have an answer for those, and you'll have a solid feel of the novella which may satisfy you.
My interpretation is this: Quint & Miss Jessel obviously had an affair - a relationship frowned upon by people around them, not only because Quint is not a gentleman, socially speaking, and is therefore considered lowly, but also because Quint is, well, NOT A GENTLEMAN. Miss Grose implied a few times that Quint is a vile creature and that Miss Jessel seem to like the weight of his hand. Maybe they were into some kinky, S & M escapades? After they died, their ghosts remained in Bly, literally or figuratively. I'm really not sure about the paranormal angle. What I'm sure of is the ghost of the past that remained etched, and probably has damaged, in the children's memories. They may have repressed it, but something has happened when they were under the care of Quint & Miss Jessel. Some form of abuse. Could be physical or sexual - I can never be sure of that. But definitely, there was some mental scarring involved. Finally, what was the cause of Miles' expulsion? I may be wrong, but when the governess asked why he was expelled, Miles said that he said some things that he supposed he shouldn't have, and only to those he liked. Then "they" said the same things to those they liked. I don't recall, but if Miles' school is an all-boys institution, shoot me if I'm being farfetched, but I'm guessing it's something that pertains to homosexuality. Considering James' supposed homosexuality, and the themes of repressed sexuality that's dominant in this era, is it really that implausible for the author not to include that angle? Miles & Flora may have been exposed at such an early age to certain levels of abuse and promiscuity or Miles could have been molested by Quint or other adults that took care of him. That's the only explanation I can think of that made his headmasters expel him & deem him unfit to be with other boys for fear of him corrupting them. 

This is my first Henry James, and my initial reaction was "wow, he really likes commas!" It's like Inception in literature - there are sentences within sentences, five phrases in one sentence, and it could slow down even the fastest reader - but that's not a bad thing. The prose isn't hard to follow, but it's better slow down to take in every word, every subtle observations of the narrator, every change in views/expressions both from The Governess and the ones she is describing. It's really a tale written in superior technique. I loved every convoluted, un-straight-to-the-point narrative, and I thoroughly enjoyed the mind games I just endured.

Directed by:  Jack Clayton
Starring:  Deborah Kerr
Screenplay by:  William Archibald,
Truman Capote, John Mortimer
Music by:  Georges Auric
Cinematography by:  Freddie Francis
Edited by:  Jim Clark
Running Time:  100 mins
The Innocents, while the bulk of it was derived from William Archibald's play rather than directly from James' novella, has still managed to retain the essence of the book. There's still the same level of mind games going on in every scenes.

Clayton's adaptation, to cut to the chase, scared the crap out of me. There wasn't any fake scare tactics at all but god help me I was quivering in my seat anytime Miss Giddens (the governess) sees something, or even when the kids are being extra creepy. Maybe because I watched it in the middle of the night, alone in the living room. It also has great cinematography, and the gothic feel is so delicious. The scene where Miss Giddens was in the dark hallway, seemingly at the end of her wits, almost snapping, stuck to me. It was so wonderfully executed and need I mention that I almost choked on my own saliva due to extreme tension? So yeah, it surprisingly stayed close to its source material, its scary & creepy, the acting was very commendable - especially Deborah Kerr as Miss Giddens, and Martin Stephens as Miles. 

But despite the steady execution of Clayton and the film being a solid adaptation, I wasn't that entertained. It could have something to do with the time I watched it, the hint of sleepiness knocking on my consciousness, and I may need to rewatch this (and it does deserve a second viewing) to confirm, but right now, I'm saying I was bored at some point. Why? Miss Giddens sees something, she tells Mrs. Grose, who in turn seems reluctant to believe but acquieses anyway, then Miss Giddens becomes paranoid more and more and keeps insisting that the kids sees what she's seeing and are just intent on denying it... And the cycle continues. I had one bathroom trip and two kitchen raids and I come back without missing any essential part of the story. It worked well in the book because of James masterful weaving of words, but to see it translated as is, to the big screen - it somehow felt lacking.

So, is it a ghost story or a psychological horror?

I really don't know. What I do know is this. Everything in this story is pure conjecture. We have an unreliable narrator that shifts from viewing the kids as nothing short of pure innocence, then changes her perception of them as something extremely opposite. Everything was told through unstable perception, and backed up by an obviously reluctant but submissive Mrs. Grose. If you look at it this way, all we have are two kids, practically abandoned by their only relative - for reasons unknown, who have most likely experienced some sort of abuse from their previous caretakers and could have very well repressed those memories. Then here comes an unstable, sheltered governess, who pushes the kids to recall those dark memories. Until one of them couldn't handle it anymore.Was Quint, the ghost, to blame? Or is it Miss Giddens?

It's really up to you - the readers.. the audience. It's just a matter of whichever you believe in more - ghosts, or crazy people.


The Turn of the Screw - 5/5
The Innocents - 3.5/5

*GIFs courtesy of Tumblr.

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  1. You always write such informative, well written reviews.. I think some people have the gift naturally to write and touch an audience, you have that. Thanks for sharing.. I have never read the book, but I have seen the film, and your words described the film brilliantly.

    1. that means alot Tabby, thanks! Oh the book is so much better! Though I think it's not for people who aren't patient with reading/lots of words, but it's such a page turner!

      the movie is visually pleasing, and it's really scary for me. But like I said, I was a bit bored.



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