The Innocents (1961, Jack Clayton) - Spoilers


Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
I've wanted to have an in-depth discussion about this movie forever, and now that several MoFos have seen it, including Harry Lime and birdygyrl recently, now's as good a time as ever. If you haven't watched it yet, watch it as part of the MoFo Movie Club (Classic Division) and get back here to have a party with us (I hope). Otherwise, BE WARNED that we plan to discuss this in every way possible, and this is one of the most open-to-interpretation movies which doesn't make you think you "missed it" (I hope), and I also find it one of the most deeply-disturbing (AND wildly-entertaining) films ever made.

I don't want to hijack my own thread by tainting the jury pool and telling you flat out what I really think happened and why, but I want to mention a few things and questions.

1. What did you think of the bookends? The scenes which happened during and even before the opening credits and then also during THE END of the movie? What did you think of the song and sound effects to those bookends? Do they affect the way you interpret the film at all?

2. What about the Uncle (Michael Redgrave)? Did he know a lot more than he let on during the interview with the prospective governess, or was he just being honest when he expressed his utter callousness about the children?

3. Did anybody notice anything in Scene 20 at exactly the 1:11:00 mark? I realize that you probably don't have the film anymore,but it's worth a shot. Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) is upstairs with the candles, hearing/imagining noises, and she seems to look out to the end of the hall to either a patio or a window. There's a cut away from her, and in the middle of the screen at the far end of the hall, you see a brightly-lit head rise up and then to the right out of view. It certainly looks like Quint to me. Miss Giddens acts like she didn't see anything. Happy searching.

4. Has anyone made a list to determine the evidence of whether the ghosts are real or not? Either way, if Miss Giddens is correct, what's happening in the film could border on X-rated child pornography. If Miss Giddens is incorrect, why would a minister's daughter who loves children flip out? Sexual frustration? That is why I find The Innocents far more disturbing than a Lynch flick.

5. What is your interpretation of the ending? What happened and why? What about the kiss?

That's enough for now. I hope I get some responses and that more people choose to watch it without getting too much spoiled in advance.
It's what you learn after you know it all that counts. - John Wooden
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I'll have to get back to you on these questions. And in response to the third question, I made a copy and am certainly going to check it out.
"Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

Happy New Year from Philly!
I am going to have to find a copy of this. I love Michael Redgrave though I imagine as the uncle he doesn't have a big part if the movie follows the Henry James story.
Louise Vale first woman to play Jane Eyre in the flickers.

Ditto; I'll either fling it to the top of the Netflix queue so I can see it early this week, or else watch it on Netflix's streaming thingamajig.

Mark, I'd really like to read your opinion on the film, whether she was insane or not. It crossed my mind that perhaps she was, but I never could fully convince myself of this and settled on viewing it as a ghost story. If I was wrong than this film is very twisted indeed. Please, taint the jury pool.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
OK Harry, if you're still on, I'll discuss some of this, but first tell me why it was only a ghost story. What evidence did you weigh and how did ghosts win? By the way, how, exactly, were the ghosts using the kids?

OK Harry, if you're still on, I'll discuss some of this, but first tell me why it was only a ghost story. What evidence did you weigh and how did ghosts win? By the way, how, exactly, were the ghosts using the kids?
I saw what I wanted to see, I guess. That and good old lazy assumptions.

After going back and watching a couple of scenes I'm starting to notice the subjectivity of the appearances of the ghosts. As well, that criticism that I mentioned in the PM I sent you (the one you didn't reply to) may be a key to the puzzle, she figures the ghosts are possessing the children without any real proof because well, she's nuts.

If she is nuts then the uncle didn't know more than he was letting on, unless it was in regards to her being insane, but no matter how callous he may be I doubt he would allow an insane woman into his house. How would he even know that she was insane?

Now onto your third point, yes I did faintly see something, but how does this support the insanity plea if she doesn't see it?

Thanks a lot Mark, you've got me real confused. I'm not even going to touch on points 1, 5, and the latter of point 4 - something tells me they're connected to each other and if so, like I said before, really twisted. Perhaps it's a little from column A and a little from column B, but thanks to your persistent attention to this film I'm going to have to watch it again.

I haven't read any of Henry James' work, but after a little investigation I see there's a dispute on whether it is a ghost story or much more. It could have always been the author's intention to leave it up to the reader to decide, varying on the reader. And the same could be said for the film, but then the filmmaker would have his own opinion on the matter and probably intended to show it as he saw it. I myself think I can be pretty twisted, surprised I missed this one. Although it did cross my mind, I guess I just didn't want to admit it in the end, seeing as to what that would imply.

Something tells me I'm going to like this film more the second time around. Although I did give it a 3/5 which ammounts to a B in my books. I want to read your opinion on all this first, before I watch it again.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
Henry James basically wrote The Turn of the Screw as a ghost story, and it's a fine one. I'm always empathetic to Deborah Kerr as an actress, and I can relate to her character here because she has mostly led a sheltered life and then she's thrust into taking care of an enormous estate where she finds two seemingly-angelic children. She immediately takes to Flora and she likes Mrs. Grose although the housekeeper is very slow to let out information about the dead servants and what effect they had on the children's lives. As a viewer, I mostly relate to Kerr's Miss Giddens because I learn and see things which she learns and sees. At no point in the film, do any other characters acknowledge that they see any ghosts, but there are so many other coincidences (including Miles' being sent home from school for "contaminating the other boys") and yes, some physical evidence, which leads a viewer to easily go along with Miss Giddens' eventual decision that the ghosts are real. The strongest piece of evidence is the tear left behind by the female ghost which Miss Giddens finds in her classroom.

As far as the Uncle goes, he's pretty much a playboy and wants to be left out of the care of his wards, so no, I never thought that he thought that Miss Giddens was crazy, but he obviously didn't go into much detail when he mentioned that the last governess had died. Therefore, Miss Giddens has to learn "the truth" for herself and has to deal with it on her own. This, of course, can lead to dire consequences, especially if she's wrong. I mean, Miss Giddens basically performs an exorcism at the end of the film. Why does she do it? Not only does she fear for the children's physical safety and well-being, but she fears for the loss of their souls to the dark side. If you extrapolate out to the logical conclusion why two ghosts who regularly had S&M sex at the estate when they were alive, sometimes in front of the children, want to possess the two prepubescent children's bodies, it comes out sounding almost unthinkably-obscene. Somehow, the fact that this all takes place over a hundred years ago makes it even nastier. This is what Miss Giddens is faced with in the latter part of the story.

I see The Innocents as being open to many interpretations at almost every step of the way, but I find that to be its strength. Miss Giddens could very well be correct in her interpretation, but maybe she made some mistakes in trying to resolve the situation. She may have become embroiled in a situation which she, and perhaps no human, could ever resolve. She may also have just gone over the edge at some point and failed to stop seeing both sides of the question. The film's ending is incredibly intense and powerful, and whatever the truth of the situation, Miss Giddens and the children will forever feel its impact for at least as long as they live.

As far as number 3 goes, I mention that because if that's Quint (I blew up the screen and went super slo-mo, so it looked like his chin and cheeks to me), and we see it but Miss Giddens doesn't see it, then that's more evidence that Quint is real. Now, often during the scenes with the ghosts, there are weird sound effects or the sound disappears completely. I could interpret that two ways; either we're privy to the inner workings of Miss Giddens mind (sane or insane) when this happens or we're privy to that alternate world of dead spirits roaming the earth which almost no one ever experiences but certainly might cause a heightened or unusual state of awareness if one ever did.

I'm stopping for now because we can use some more participants. Oh, and you ant-crushing Harry Lime can respond again too.

Happy New Year from Philly!
The Turn of the Screw is a famously ambiguous story and made even more so by its construction. Unlike the movie, which consistently gives us Miss Giddens POV from the outset, The Turn of the Screw is a frame story. The reader is reading a story that is extrapolated from a letter from a person who heard the story either from the Governess, herself or from someone who heard the story. It has a kind of 'whisper down the lane' effect that reinforces the ambiguity. I am sure that James' intention was to create a 'haunting' story whether or not it is about an actual haunting or a sick cover up for what could be anything from negligence to murder on the part of the Governess is up to the reader to suss out. Either way the child is dead at the end though I am not sure if the movie makes that clear but then I imagine that the filmmakers may be leaving that open in order to sustain the ambiguity of the source material.

I am up in the air about the true nature of the short story if there is one, though I had an English professor who was adamant about the 'evil' nature of Miss Giddens. The film itself seems to be about a haunting that is in fact a combination of delusion caused by sexual repression and religious mania exacerbated by hallucinations. Miss Giddens is both fascinated and repulsed by tales about the sexy, devilish Peter Quint and his paramour and projects Quint's qualities on the beautiful, charming boy, Miles. She also projects her desire onto both the previous governess and Flora. I see her attack of Flora, who is subsequently banished from the house along with Mrs. Grose, as her way of clearing the decks to be alone with the object of her obsession, Miles/Quint.

As both Harry and Mark have pointed out no one but Miss Giddens sees the ghosts. And no one but Miss Giddens sees the children as possessed by the spirits. Mrs Grose, who knows the children best, informs us, the viewers and Miss Giddens that she saw nothing untoward in the children until Miss Giddens came along. The only construction we have on Miles misbehavior is the one Miss Giddens puts on it.

The filmmakers choice of lead actress does plenty to reinforce the viewers uncertainty about her the nature of the character. Deborah Kerr is an actress, who has both an emotional solidity and a seemingly febrile nature which is just what is needed to keep the question of Gidden's sanity open. It is Kerr's combination of vulnerability and solidity that make her so valuable as an actress in roles that put her in the eye of some emotional storm like Black Narcissus (a favorite of mine) and Tea and Sympathy. Imagine another actress in the role. Imagine Meg Ryan, an actress who exudes vulnerability and instability, in the eye of this particular storm and you would come down heavily on the side of insanity in the character of Miss Giddens.

The only time the film was not seen from Miss Giddens POV is at the end when we get the eye in the sky view of Giddens and Miles in the garden and the ghost of Peter Quint looming over them and seemingly wringing Miles heart out with his fist. If not for this scene, I would say that there we were watching a nervous breakdown from the point of view of the person having the breakdown.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
OK, well now that the cat is out of the bag, yes, there is no doubt whatsoever that Miles is dead at the end. The question, though, is Quint's possession of Miles so complete that the boy has no clue and dies from Quint's leaving or is the "exorcism" so traumatic that it shocks Miles to death at the end? Quint seems to "die" (turn to stone) at the exact same moment that Miles does, and that certainly doesn't help clarify whether Quint was really there or not, although I'm sure I know what Freud would say. Oh, one other thing to remember is that when Miles runs out into the courtyard, he falls and we hear an enormous thud, so that could be a health concern too.

As far as Quint grasping the boy's heart, there isn't anything that blatant in the movie, but he does raise his hand to the boy. One other thing which is clear is that Miss Giddens is praying and begging for forgiveness at both the ending and the beginning of the film. In fact, the actual film may be a nightmare which Miss Giddens relives every night of her life, whether she "saved" the boy or killed him.

there's a frog in my snake oil
Yep I read the bookends that way Marky. As a tortured going over of the events, and over whether she'd done right or wrong etc. Saved or damned. (And even a smattering of doubting her version of events perhaps - her own personal 'haunting'). Think beelze is spot on about Kerr's 'strong but unnerved' representation of the character - and think both James and the reworks layer in plenty of doubt in both directions as to the reality of the events. For myself though, I did take it to be a ghost story by the end. Aside from anything else, what kills the kid at the end if not the pitched story (which does seem to step outside the Kerr POV at that point)? You mention a stumble, but it didn't seemed to be as pitched as strongly as all the previous juxtaposition of dual possibilities - nor the possibility that Giddens strangled or smuggled him in her 'passion' etc or what have you.

What's strong about the film to me is that you could still read it either way throughout the journey. That and it's just all-round classily done
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I really love the photography and the sound effects of this movie. Since it's almost 50 years old, it doesn't have a fancily-mixed Dolby soundtrack, but the sound it does have is mind-boggling and modern filmmakers could learn a lot about suspense from studying this film on a technical level. The fact that it's got a crackerjack story to tell adds to its creative excellence.

So Golgot, or anybody else, do you have any fave visual or aural moments?

there's a frog in my snake oil
I was a little worried the 60s early-electronica was going to jar or date it too much, but I thought even that worked in the end, merged in with other unsettling elements. (I didn't pick out any other specifics on this first watch tho - other than the interesting use of the black-screen start with the song & the book end 'whimperings' etc - and the various iterations of the kids song all told).

Just checked and the lady who almost certainly provided the electronica folds of unnervingness was Daphne Ohm, who was one of the pioneers who staffed the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. (See here for a crazy-advanced bit of 'break beat' by compatriot Delia Derbyshire).

Visually and aurally the squinting-through-the-sun scene where she peers up at the figure on the tower was great (as you mentioned earlier) - but I was aware of the spacing, visual lines, and powerful (literally!) lighting throughout. Aware in the sense that it was a sustained tone. Or at least went through eventual shifts almost seamlessly. (Love that they actually painted trees lighter to boost the sunniness of her arrival ).

In some ways there's to many to count. The dolly-wheeling of the ghost too and from the window, and the way his steely eye glints are almost the last thing to disappear. The ghost in the reeds - almost undecipherable the first time. The almost palpable swelter of the garden extension bit, whether talking with the nanny by day as she keeps things running under opulant stripes of shadow and verdant sunscape, or when plunged into greater swathes of dark in her chess-piece confrontation with the boy. The falling white petal of chastity (or nearby death, or however you chose to see it) on her bible, as she approaches her apparent enamoured/possessed crossroads. Etc