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Henry James is one of the famous writers during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One of James' novels, "The Turn of the Screw" (1898), had caused a lot of debates among critics, whom each had their own interpretation. The reactions of the readers, when reading the novel, developed a psychological view by analyzing how James developed his story using an unreliable narrator, unexpected changes, and effective images and words. The movie version of "The Turn of the Screw" in black-and-white, The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton, loses the ambiguity of James' original text. Ambiguity meaning the art of deliberately creating something that can have more than one meaning had led itself to the written word without difficulty. While the storyline of the novel often shuffled about, it still didn't completely change from its ambiguity; the screenwriters create a psychological twist, giving a more horror and dramatic effect. The movie makes use from its lighting to the directions for its effect.
With "The Turn of the Screw" James wrote a highly ambiguous novel; with The Innocents, Clayton faced an upward struggle. Adapting a novel for a movie is always filled with difficulties as the written word has the ability to be far more subtle than trying to grasp the feeling on screen; words do not have to be precise in their meaning but a picture on a screen is just a picture and capturing the ambiguity of "The Turn of the Screw" would be challenging. The effects of creating a movie by a novel don't always have the same workings; The Innocents does lose the novel's ambiguity.
"The Turn of the Screws'" framework of the story begins as a retelling of a ghost tale to a group of people. Using a story within a story allows James to write in the first person from a female point of view. It gives the story a sense of authenticity. For The Innocents, Clayton uses the camera to be an objective narrator, which tells the story and what's happening. The movie begins with a chilling confession of the governess, who had her hands clamped together as she's praying and whispering that all she wanted to do was save the children. This already makes the viewers believe this governess as a 'crazy, mad' woman. Putting aside the opening, the movie and novel does start off with an open job of a position to be a governess, who will take care for two children whom the uncle has no time to visit. He wants nothing to do with the children and that the governess must take care of things on her own. The governess, (or Miss Giddens as her name in the movie), is on her way to the country estate in Bly but James had the governess meet Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, and Flora, the niece with a hint of some sort of strangeness; Clayton uses fresh vagueness into the story by letting her meet the little girl far more interesting. The first shot of the girl is a reflection where she seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. This, along with the faint calling of her name that seemed to have no source, certainly could be used to argue that the governess is imagining certain elements. There are different interpretations from the call, this being ambiguity, it could simply be that Clayton wanted the character to be slightly surreal.
In the novel, a major plot is the children's involvement with the whole situation. Whether the children are innocent as they look or knew about Quint and Jessel, and they're just manipulating the governess? Or if they really can see and speak with the two ghosts? James seems to suggest that the children do not know what is happening and that it s is just all in the governess' instability. Since the book questions about their existence indirectly by suggesting that the governess may be imagining things. There is very little in the novel that helps support the children involvement steering readers to believe that the governess is mad as the children seem entirely innocent. So readers don't know if the governess is losing her mind or the ghosts are really there in front of her. The movie goes in the same direction as the novel but with a few visual tricks; such as when Quint is first sighted on the tower, it is against the glare of the sun, Jessel's appearances at the lake always takes place amongst tall, dark grasses. These visual effects allow the audience to doubt what is being seen.
However the movie also shows viewers another point of view, by casting the children in a different light. Everything in the actions and expressions, which gives the children a very evil manner than what the novel gives. There are new scenes written into the movie such as Miles' attempt in strangling the governess in the attic, Flora's disturbing humming and her demonic screeching near the end of the movie and, lastly, Miles' strange behavior when he throws the turtle and makes his speech.
By doing this, the movie loses some of the novel's ambiguity but gains some dramatic and spooky effect. The movie removes some parts from the novel and creates other scenes, which causes some important parts to be missing such as the mysterious Douglas in the beginning. Also the novel doesn't give in depth of the deaths of Quint and Jessel but the movie does. However The Innocents, the adaptation of "The Turn of the Screw" remains one of the most effective horror movies and it capture the ambiguity of the novel very well with the existence of the ghosts and supporting characters.