Movie Discussion: Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961)

  • Monthly Theme: 1960s Mindfuckthe-innocents-movie-poster
  • The Film: The Innocents
  • Country of origin: U.K.
  • Date of U.K. release: November 1961
  • Date of U.S. release: December 25, 1961
  • Studio: Achilles & Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
  • Distributer: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
  • Domestic Gross: ?
  • Budget: ?
  • Director: Jack Clayton
  • Producers: Jack Clayton & Albert Fennell
  • Screenwriter: William Archibald & Truman Capote
  • Adaptation? Yes, from the 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.
  • Cinematographer: Freddie Francis
  • Make-Up/FX: Wilfred Shingleton
  • Music: Georges Auric
  • Part of a series? There was an unofficial prequel to the James story released in 1971 called The Nightcomers, starring Marlon Brando as Quint.
  • Remakes? Yes. The James novella has been filmed in 1974 as an ABC-TV movie called The Turn of the Screw (starring Lynn Redgrave), in 1992 as The Turn of the Screw (starring Patsy Kensit & Julian Sands), in 1995 as a CBS-TV movie called The Haunting of Helen Walker (starring Valerie Bertinelli), a 1999 as a PBS/Masterpiece Theatre TV movie called The Turn of the Screw (starring Colin Firth), in 1999 as Presence of Mind (starring Sadie Frost, Lauren Bacall, Harvey Keitel & Jude Law), in 2006 as In a Dark Place (starring Leelee Sobieski), and in 2009 as a BBC-TV film called The Turn of the Screw (starring Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery and Dan Stevens).
  • Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. Genre character actors Martin Stephens (Village of the Damned, The Witches, etc.) and Pamela Franklin (Our Mother’s House, And Soon the Darkness, etc.).
  • Other notables?: Yes. Hollywood star Deborah Kerr and British actor Michael Redgrave.
  • Awards?: Best Motion Picture at the 1962 Edgar Allan Poe Awards and Best Director at the 1961 National Board of Review.
  • Tagline: “A strange new experience in shock.”
  • The Lowdown: This is the best known and most critically lauded adaptation of Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw. It was not a commercial success at the time of its release, but the film has gone on to have a long life as a “classic” psychological thriller (Scorsese included it on his “11 Scariest Movies of All Time” list). Did you know that 10 years after this movie came out Michael Winner, the sociopath who directed The Sentinel, filmed a prequel to The Turn of the Screw with Marlon Brando called The Nightcomers? I haven’t seen it, but I am all ready traumatized just knowing it exists. In The Innocents, a woman named Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) is hired by an eccentric gentleman (Michael Redgrave) to look after his niece and nephew at his isolated country manor. Once there, Giddens begins to put together the strange back story around the children’s last governess, who died mysteriously and was somehow connected to a dead valet…

If you haven’t seen The Innocents our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Sean: Well, you’ve now seen The Innocents. Thoughts?

Kristine: I liked it a lot. I thought it was deliciously creepy.

Sean: So obviously this movie provides the template a certain kind of haunted house movie in the contemporary era, films like The Others and The Orphanage.

Kristine: Yes, of course.

Sean: Did you notice that while we were watching? I’m just curious if the similarities were super obvious…

Kristine: Yes, I did. I made a note of just that exact thing. But I was surprised that this movie went there in scandalous ways that it’s modern descendants did not. Do you agree?

Deborah Kerr  The Innocents (1961)
Miss Giddens presses her sweaty PALMS against the CHILLY glass…

Sean: Oh god yes. This movie is scandalous. Did you approve of Deborah Kerr’s performance as the perverted Miss Giddens?

Kristine: I thought she was great, actually. And in addition to being a great performance, I think it is a very brave performance.

Sean: Me too.

Kristine: So it’s clear what your interpretation of her character is, since you just called her “perverted.”

Sean: Didn’t you think she was? There was like, steam rising off of her every line of dialogue. Because she was so moist. Get it?

Kristine: Christ.

Sean: She was.

Kristine: She was…a situation. I was so mad when she was creaming over that uncle.

Sean: I don’t think she was.

Kristine: Remember when she tells Miles that he is so charming just like his uncle and he could talk her into anything?

Sean: There is so much perversity to cover. Let me start by asking you this: This is based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw… Do you have any familiarity with the source material?

Kristine: I know of it but I have not read it. I have not read any James, actually.

Sean: Did you notice that Truman Capote worked on the screenplay?

Kristine: I did indeed, and I feel totally confident saying that’s why it was such a perversity.

Sean: Haha!

Flora strokes the hard, thick BEDPOST as she gazes over Giddens’ AREA….

Kristine: Have you read The Turn of the Screw? Is it freak-ay like The Innocents?

Sean: Yes I read the novella in college and it sort of blew my mind.

Kristine: Wow, awesome. Tell me everything.

Sean: James is an incredibly dense and un-cinematic writer. He is really interior and really elliptical. It is truly revelatory to me that the filmmakers did such a great job of adapting this, because it seems like an un-adaptable book. However, the book is totally twisted and perverse, just like the movie…. This movie is overflowing with queer sensibility, and I agree with you that Capote’s involvement is probably responsible for that. And Henry James himself is a queer, proto-gay figure.

Kristine: Right, right. I want to read it now. So, The Innocents. I’m wondering how the title of the film is meant to be a comment on what is “really” happening in the movie. What is your interpretation?

Sean: Ok, well obviously the debate over both the book and the movie is between two competing interpretations. So it’s either (1) The ghosts are real or (2) It’s all a paranoid delusion of Miss Giddens’. I do notT think the title makes a comment on which of those two possibilities is “true.” I see it as being totally ambiguous…

Kristine: Love it.

Sean: I lean towards thinking the truth is somewhere in the middle… Perverse shit went down, but Giddens amplifies all of it with her own perversity… What do you think?

Miles hides the soft GAMECOCK in the twisted SHEETS of his bed….

Kristine: Can I just say that this movie is so much more transgressive than The (overrated) Omen? I was delightfully shocked by this movie, which makes me think that contemporary culture is really fucking watered down compared to decades past. I agree with you that it is ambiguous, and I love that. The “innocents” can be the children at the mercy of this crazed governess, or it can be Giddens at the mercy of the ghosts/house, or it can be all the characters at the mercy of evil…. We do not know. Where the movie really got me was Giddens’ obsession with the BDSM relationship between Quint and the former governess, Miss Jessel.

Sean: Especially since Henry James was so interested in psychology, I feel like the movie begs us to read a lot of Miss Giddens’ fanaticism and paranoia as displacement. She displaces her own dark desires onto her charges and onto the phantom of Quint. The insinuation of Quint’s violations against Miss Jessel and against Miles fills Miss Giddens with an erotic frenzy as she violently denies her own desires. Quint was a perpetrator, and the knowledge of his crimes seems to awaken or stoke some deep desire to perpetrate in Miss Giddens. One of the queerest things about her is how deeply she seems to identify with Quint, even if only to purge and exorcise her own sins onto him.

Kristine: Wow, very well said. I agree with you completely.

Sean: Miss Giddens’ fervent “love” for the children has a queer or monstrous edge to it. The movie opens with Giddens, in voiceover, telling us emphatically “More than anything I love children. More than anything.” She then goes on to assert that the children “need affection, love, someone who will belong to them and to whom they will belong.” There’s an erotic or romantic quality to her affection for them. When she says, “I love children,” there is some perverse edge to it. The maternal figure as predator/abuser is definitely something this movie is playing around with. When the Uncle reads from her resumé that “more than anything, [she loves] children,” Giddens breathlessly affirms: “Yes.” She has a constant quivering, almost ecstatic tone whenever she talks about her affection for children.

Kristine: Yes, agreed. And really, what kind of young, beautiful woman would want to be shuttled off to some remote location, ostensibly for the rest of the her life? That right there tells you something in the milk ain’t clean. The Uncle is such a selfish douchebag that he doesn’t see her choice as deeply problematic. I want to talk about the Uncle and his role in Giddens’ descent. I feel like the Uncle = society, and by isolating her completely and telling her to never reach out and that she has complete authority over the children, he/society really puts the flame to the gasoline. What do you think?

Sean: Yeah I want to talk about him too…. But can I ask you first, can you even remember another movie that explores female perversity like this? Or is interested in the mother/maternal figure as sexual perpetrator? This movie is sort of Notes on a Scandal…. Guv’nah.

Screen Shot 2013-02-17 at 2.13.35 PM
Her wraps his BABYARM around Miss Giddens’ delicate THROAT…

Kristine: Hmmm. I know that they exist, but titles aren’t coming to my addled brain. It reminds be a lot of Flowers in the Attic though. What about the absence/excess of power that Giddens possesses? On the one hand she has been explicitly given total authority, but she is also a victim of the children. Remember when they are playing hide and seek and Miles gets her in a head lock? Sean, that scene made me sooooo uncomfortable.

Sean: I know… Okay back to the Uncle. He reads as completely queer to me. The first words he says to Miss Giddens are, “Do you have an imagination?” He’s trying to figure out if she’s someone who will be accepting/receptive to his lifestyle; he is reticent to level with someone who lacks “imagination,” that is, someone who doesn’t have an open mind. “Truth is very seldom understood by any but “imaginative” persons,” he tells Giddens, as a preface to his confession of the truth about himself. The way he says “I’m a bachelor” reads to me as coming out moment – it seems like exactly the kind of coded language he would use to talk about himself as a gay man. What I love about it though is how he is presented as an un-tragic figure, someone with a rich and full life. He’s not some isolated, tragic queer pining away, celibate and self-loathing.He tells Giddens that he has a full life, that he “spends a lot of time abroad” and that his life consists of “not the sort of amusement that one could suitably share with children.” Later, Mrs. Grose says of him “He always liked the town life” because he was always “a very popular gentleman,” which to me means that he did a lot of buttfucking in dark alleyways all over London. Also remember the misunderstanding between Mrs. Grose and Miss Giddens about the Uncle’s “preferences”? Giddens says, “He seems to prefer them young and pretty,” referring to the Uncle, to which Mrs. Grose responds. “He had the Devil’s own eye!” meaning Quint. But then Grose lies and claims she meant the Uncle all along – the notion that the Uncle fancies beautiful women is presented as a lie. The perverse Quint was “the Master’s valet,” the implication being that Quint was a pansexual seducer who nailed both the Uncle and Miss Jessel.

Kristine: Wow, okay, I really like and agree with your reading. I did perceive the Uncle as a gaylord, but I didn’t make the connection at the time back to his relationship with Quint. But I completely concur.

The Uncle sashays past Miss Giddens before telling her, “Chantay, you stay.”

Sean: I also kind of dug how he was very frank about his distaste for the children, and his emphasis that he be left completely alone is interesting to me. This movie is, in some ways, about parenting and parental roles. The tragedy of Flora and Miles is that their authentic parents have died and in their place they inherit two queer parental figures but ones that reenact very familiar heterosexual archetypes: the distant father and the suffocating mother. But the motivations for the Uncle and Miss Giddens are what is queer or “off” – the Uncle is remote because he is living a lifestlye “abroad” that is not at all “suitable” for children. Giddens is smothering because of the strange, erotic streak to her maternal love.

Kristine: Hey, have you read The Story of O?

Sean: No. What’s the connection?

Kristine: Well, O is a modern woman, a fashion photographer, who is willingly sent by her dominant lover to a remote chateau where she is schooled in the ways of sexual submission. The estate’s valets are the main ones carrying out the training. O’s lover and the lovers of the other women drop by now and then for crazy sex parties, but for the most part the women are isolated with these valets. So this movie reminded me of that…

Sean: Yes I was thinking that the world of the masculine and the world of the feminine are strictly defined in the movie. The world of the maternal is a “lonely” country house, a world of isolated domesticity in which no male bodies appear other than the phantom of Quint. The gardener is mentioned but never seen. It’s a matriarchal space where Miss Giddens rules as a dictator, lording over the children in her charge and her own uneducated sidekick, the housekeeper Mrs. Grose. The world of the paternal exists almost entirely off-screen, “abroad.” But the mother figure’s power is granted by the father figure. It is the Uncle who enshrines Miss Giddens, granting her, in his own words, “supreme authority.” What’s interesting about Miss Giddens to me is that she takes that power and claims it for herself. Later in the movie, once she’s become convinced that the children are consorting with dark spirits, she considers – and then rejects – going to male authority figures for help. She asks Mrs. Grose about the local vicar, and she plans to gatecrash the Uncle’s gay partying. But she doesn’t ultimately go to either male figure, and instead relies upon her own authority to make decisions. And remember she reaches this conclusion only after she witnesses the phantom of Miss Jessel – whom Giddens clearly thinks of as a proxy for herself – weeping in the schoolroom.

She brings her bony, shrill FACE closer to his wan VISAGE…

Kristine: Yes, totally. I noticed the absent gardener, as well. Back to your idea about predatory mother figures – it is such a thing that children are left at the mercy of these “sick” women and that’s just the way it is. I’m thinking about stuff like the Susan Smith case – every one knew she was nuts, her husband knew she was depressed and nuts and still she was left alone with her children. Of course, she was villainized once she snapped and killed them, while her husband was seen as just another victim who didn’t have any say or control in the fate of his children. It’s gross and I am sick of it.

Sean: Yes. But to tie it back to your Story of O connection, it’s interesting that in The Story of O the woman is shuttled off to learn submission, while in The Innocents the woman is shuttled off and becomes sort of “mad with power.” I actually think the gender politics of this movie might wind up being a bit conservative… because at the end of the day Mss Giddens’ judgement is “off” and she is responsible for Miles’ death and Flora’s break with reality. She is the mother as destroyer, just like Susan Smith.

Kristine: I was going to say something similar. Our three adult female characters are, in turn, crazy and ultimately homicidal (Miss Giddens), totally passive (Mrs. Grose, who was not able to intervene with Miss Jessel nor with GIddens) and the submissive victim (Miss Jessel). That is troubling. But then, again, look at our male characters…

Sean: My favorite Deborah Kerr moment in this movie is when she regales Mrs. Grose with her certainty about the existence of some kind of perverse conspiracy in the house. When she says, “I can’t pretend to understand what its purpose is, I only know that it is happening. Something secretive… and whispery… and indecent!” That is glorious camp insanity.

Kristine: I agree. Wonderful. This is a very small point, but remember how Miss Giddens is won over and charmed by the beauty of the house? That seemed to me to be very pointed, that a female heart and mind would be susceptible to “falling in love” with a home in a way the rational, masculine mind would not. One of my favorite things about the film is how the house and surrounding grounds become increasingly ominous in the creepiest (but also most beautiful) of ways. Specifically, I noticed that the longer Giddens was there, the more nature seemed to be asserting itself – we have the great scene where Flora is joyfully watching the butterfly stuck in the spider’s web as the spider approaches to devour it (which I read as a metaphor for many of the relationships in the film: Jessel/Quint, Giddens/the house, the children/Giddens… Take your pick) and also the Venus fly trap in the garden when Giddens and Miles are having one of their creepazilla conversations.

Miss Giddens’ first view of Flora: an up-skirt image SPLOSHED across the WATERY surface of the pond…

Sean: Oh totally. One of the things that blows me away about this movie is how atmospheric and cinematic it is. So many sequences are composed entirely of film grammar, and the story is told using visuals as much as anything else. The movie creates tense, palpable moments of pure spectacle that feel very modern and contemporary to me: like when Miss Giddens first glimpses the ghost of Quint atop the roof, through the glare of the midday sun, or when she first arrives on the estate and hears the phantom of Miss Jessel calling for Flora. Our first glimpse of Flora in that scene is as a ghostly white reflection on the surface of the pond, setting us up for how the movie will continually blur the line between what is “real” and what is “surreal.” (Also, as a side note, the young girl who plays Flora is the actress Pamela Franklin, who went on to be a kind of minor British scream queen. She starred in several cult horror classics: the Bette Davis hagsploitation flick The Nanny (1965), the nurses-in-peril thriller And Soon the Darkness (1970), the nature-strikes-back movie The Food of the Gods (1976) and, perhaps the most well-known of them all, the haunted house chiller The Legend of Hell House (1973). She also starred in some minor thrillers (a kidnapping movie with Marlon Brando called The Night of the Following Day, an occult thriller with Orson Welles called The Witching, a made-for-tv satanic cult movie with Cheryl Ladd called Satan’s School for Girls).

Kristine: Well, sorry, but Flora was ugly.

Sean: Also, about Nature… Miss Giddens ripening sexuality is made manifest in the very environment. The over-ripe blooms of the flowers that shed their petals if touched, the insect life swarming at the edges of civilized space – the giant beetle that emerges from the mouth of the stone cherub (that’s probably the most overtly sexual image in the movie), the butterfly trapped in the spiderweb that you mentioned earlier. The doves that flutter and coo throughout the movie. Of course, this repressed sexuality seems to be the source of her neuroses and paranoia. “Sometimes one can’t help imagining things,” Giddens tells Flora after she thinks she hears an animal crying out in pain somewhere outside the windows at night.

Kristine: Yep, totally.

Sean: Can we talk about… Miles?

Kristine: Sure.

Sean: I think that the Uncle’s queerness also extends to and marks Miles. Remember, he is kicked out of his all-boys’ school because he is considered “an injury to [his peers],” an event that Miss Giddens frames as a kind of “contamination,” or “corruption.” “Are you afraid he’ll corrupt you?” Mrs. Grose asks mockingly and it’s all weirdly sexual. In the climax of the movie, the subject of his expulsion comes up again and Giddens demands to know why he was asked to leave. Miles replies, “It must be because I’m different.” To which Miss Giddens cries out, “But you’re not. You’re like any other boy!” and Miles says, “Aaah, now who isn’t telling the truth?” What did you make of the Miles/Giddens relationship?

She cups the delicate BLOSSOM in her tiny FIST…

Kristine: Miles was so wonderfully creepy. I truly found him chilling. I think that Miss Giddens is genuinely afraid of Miles, but also drawn to him. It’s interesting that the children are sometimes depicted as proxies for Miss Jessel and Quint, because their behavior to me was so uniquely childlike. But they were also terrifying in only the way children can be – in turns insanely self-assured and then desperately needy. Sean, kiddies scare me. They are so intense.

Sean: I agree. Creepy kid characters are insanely difficult to pull off, especially when the characters have to project intelligence and say lots of dialogue. Some movies, like the aforementioned The Omen, just make the creepy kid a relatively mute cipher that we can project our paranoia onto. But The Innocents gives the kids a lot of heavy lifting to do in terms of atmosphere and character work, and they’re both phenomenal. I can think of a lot of horror movies that don’t work at all because they don’t know how to pull off a good creepy child (that Ethan Hawke movie Sinister is the most recent example).

Kristine: Did the actor who played Miles go on to creep people out in other movies?

Sean: This movie isn’t even his most famous creepy kid role. He was the star of a movie called Village of the Damned, which he was very well-known for, before he made The Innocents. But his parents retired him from acting and he became an architect. He was in a couple of random movies after this, but he mostly gave it up. When he 17 he starred in a Hammer horror move called The Witches (which was also Joan Fontaine’s last major film role), and that was the last movie he ever did.

Kristine: I bet he puts secret torture chambers into all the houses and buildings that he designs.

He slides his tiny tongue into her HEADSLOT….

Sean: Well, he does live in Portugal. So, I want to talk more about how dirty and inappropriate this movie is. I think that the Miles/Giddens relationship is framed as a kind of ongoing seduction. Miles tells her she’s “far too pretty to be a governess” and then later, invites her into his bedroom when he “senses” her lingering outside his door. He confesses he’s “much too excited” to sleep because of “meeting you.” Miss Giddens practically has an orgasm at that and then asks, quite pruriently, “What do you think about while you’re lying awake?” I kept waiting for her to just reach under the covers and start jerking him off. Later, Miles tells her he knows all about how she “makes little moans and groans all night.” His assault on Miss Giddens in the attic during their game of hide and seek almost seems to presage a rape. “You’re hurting me! Let me go!” Miss Giddens cries out, to which Miles responds, “Am I?!” with sadistic delight. At the end it is revealed that Miles is a sadist who hurt the other boys “late at night.” “They screamed,” Miles says. And of course, when he plants that kiss on Miss Giddens at bedtime…

Kristine: Yes, totally. But all of that rings true to me as childlike behavior, that’s why they are so scary.

Sean: What children are you hanging out with?

Kristine: I mean, obviously Miles learned things from his male role models, both his bon vivant Uncle and Quint, the sadistic valet. But I thought his delivery was still childlike. Children can be so amazingly confident when they are in their own environments.

Sean: Did this movie actually scare you?

Kristine: Hmmm. It creeped me out really badly. I found some of Miles’ scenes quite scary, but I wasn’t terrified. I was more like, ‘Wow.” And you?

In the ERECT reeds, the phantom leans against an unseen POST…

Sean: I thought there are also moments of genuine creepiness. When Miss Giddens runs down the hallway looking for the children during their game of hide-and-seek and she sees Miss Jessel walk by a window. I found that to be totally scary. Also later when she spots Jessel standing, motionless, in the reeds across the pond. And when Quint appears outside the glass window… Didn’t that scene of him slowly fading backwards into the darkness remind you of the very similar scene in Inside, when the Woman melts into the shadows behind Sarah…

Kristine: Yes. Jessel made me deeply sad. I was very creeped out when the housekeeper said that Jessel and Quint would have creepy, mean-spirited sex in front of the children. Ugh, and shudder. It’s like the house is a twisted version of the Garden of Eden, and Jessel and Quint are these archetypes that will forever be repeated there…

Sean: “Rooms used by daylight as if they were dark woods,” is how Mrs. Grose puts it.

Kristine: Yeah. Actually, my Adam and Eve interpretation works with the title, too, right? Though the Uncle prefers Adam and Steve.

Sean: Adam and Eve? More like Tommy and Pamela.

Kristine: That is the most ‘90s thing that you have ever said.

Sean: Adam and Eve? More like R. Kelly and a 9th-grader.

Kristine: ….

The Innocents 3
His FLAMING candle flickers in the HOMOSEXUAL darkness….

Sean: Fine, I have actual thoughts…. There’s a strong insinuation that Quint and Miles had a pederastic relationship. Grose says, “You can’t blame the child” for their unnatural relationship, “A lonely boy with no father. Quint took advantage!” She says it made her “sick” to see them together. “They were always together,” Grose says. Then Miles appears in costume, dressed as a king, and recites a mournful love poem addressed to “my Lord” (which of course refers to the dead Quint). The poem becomes a description of an erotic encounter, of the predatory adult slipping into the bedroom of the child/victim at night: “What shall I say when my Lord comes a-calling? / What shall I say when he knocks on my door? / What shall I say when his feet enter softly / Leaving the marks of his grave on my floor? / Enter my lord! Come from your prison!” It’s an utterance laced with masochism and submission, and possibly a confession of rape and queer desire. It’s at this moment – when Miles recites his dirty poem – that Miss Giddens becomes obsessed with the idea that Miles “ knows” something he shouldn’t know, that the children are possessed of some unnatural knowledge that corrupts and perverts them. Of course, predatory Quint is painted in supernatural and inhuman terms. Miss Giddens refers to his apparition as “a man… or something that once was a man.” Mrs. Grose says that he possessed “the eyes of a fox the dogs had hunted down.” Of course, his death is cloaked in ambiguity. Maybe he fell down on the icy steps because he was drunk. Or maybe he was murdered by someone whom he’d done wrong. But what’s certain is that he not only “corrupted” Miles but also Miss Jessel, despite her “being an educated lady and Quint being, well, what he was,” Mrs. Grose says.

Kristine: I think it is inarguable that there was a pederastic relationship. Which leads me to something I was meaning to ask anyway – where does this leave Flora (note the “Nature” name)? She is besotted with and dependent on Miles… He is clearly the stronger sibling. What is her role in all this? What has she witnessed?

Sean: Hmmm… She is obviously traumatized. But here is where I would argue that the movie is weirdly conservative. Don’t you think it winds up making a pro-repression argument?

Kristine: I’m not sure I understand your question.

Sean: Mrs. Grose and Miss Giddens have a big argument about Flora, remember? Grose’s position is that she shouldn’t have tried to force Flora to face the past. Grose goes on and on about how damaging the shock of being woken from a bad dream can be.

Quint appears BEHIND the young boy’s TROUSERBOTTOMS….

Kristine: Right.

Sean: She basically argues that some things are better left unspoken. That you should just move on and not ever talk about them. Doesn’t the movie kind of wind up siding with her?

Kristine: I don’t know if I think that. I don’t think the movie thinks it’s okay for Flora to live forever in her dream world, dancing with the ghost of her dead governess. Can’t the movie also be read as very fatalistic? These people all have these roles to play and they have to live them out. So maybe Miss Giddens, in lashing out instead of destroying herself, is the only one acting against type? I don’t know.

Sean: Huh. I see this movie being about “the return of the repressed.” This household has undergone a trauma and then repressed it. Remember when Miles asks Giddens if the small country house where she grew up “had secrets” and she’s all “Hell no”? Giddens shows up and makes it her duty to force everyone to talk about everything – a total do-gooder gone awry, and she basically drives Flora mad and kills Miles.

Kristine: Right, true.

Sean: I think the movie is like, telling us that Giddens’ “evil” is her strong-arming everybody into talking. I think the movie believes Mrs. Grose is right, that the children should be left alone and that no one should ever speak of wickedness.

Kristine: I don’t know if I agree, but it’s a valid reading. Giddens is portrayed as solidly middle class, with different ways than the aristocrats or the help, who do not tend to air dirty laundry.

Sean: Right – it’s so about class. And Mrs. Grose is so fucking servile.

Kristine: It’s interesting since Truman Capote is the most notorious shit stirrer of all time. Specifically with regards to airing the dirty laundry of the upper class.

Sean: I have a counterargument to my own argument. It could be said that the kids are kind of “stuck” because of the trauma, and do need help… Like you said, that image of Flora dancing with the ghost of Miss Jessel to the tune from the music box.  Flora also refers to the dimensions of the “real” as constantly shifting and difficult to discern, and to the house itself as a space whose shape is ever-changing. “Big rooms get bigger at night,” she claims. She then confides, “I wish there was some way of sleeping in several rooms at once.” There’s an almost metaphysical fluidity to Flora’s sense of space. This serves as introduction to the existence of ghosts and phantoms, as Flora questions Miss Giddens about the nature of Heaven and suggests that if she were not allowed into Heaven, “Wouldn’t the Lord just leave me here to walk around? Isn’t that what happens to some people?” Later, Miles also pines for a kind of purgatorial eternity. He says, “There’s nothing I want to be except what I am: a boy living at Bly. Oh if only everything could go on just as it is now.”

The women gather like an ORGY in the MOIST air of the gazebo…

Kristine: I agree. The children are “stuck” in a sort of purgatory. Miles is “freed” when he is sent away to school, but in short order his own nature sends him back to this place.

Sean: So then it’s not that Giddens is wrong about the children needing help or healing from the past. It’s that she goes about it the entirely wrong way. Giddens doesn’t handle any of it right….

Kristine: Okay, so what would you do if you were her? I still think it’s all predetermined and fatalistic.

Sean: Well, Giddens takes a gun to a knife fight right? Her religious fanaticism drives her to demonize the children, rather than empathizing with them… She says, “Oh yes I can imagine what sort of things they were whispering about. Quint, Miles… I can hear them together.” Then she says, “Unless they’re deceiving us. They’re both deceiving us… the “innocents.”” She says “innocents” sarcastically, of course. She is not equipped to actually nurture them. Her plan is to like, terrify them into submitting to her will.

Kristine: Which is rooted in her fear of her own desires. She is so scared of masculinity, even in a child like Miles.

Sean: You think?

Kristine: Shut it.

Sean: No, I’m being serious. I never thought of it that way.

Kristine: Yes, I do think she is scared of “the male” and also drawn to it. Big time.

Sean: So is Quint the ultimate phantom of the rapey, phallic male?

Kristine: Yes, for Miss Giddens, he is.

Sean: This, to me, lends credence to the idea that its all in Miss Giddens’ head. That the visions of Quint and Jessel are entirely in her mind and that she has conjured/created Quint as a boogeyman because he embodies her darkest desires/fears.

Kristine: I think she is more scared of Jessel’s reaction to Quint… She is scared she would follow the same path, right? And give in to her carnal side?

Sean: Yes she is terrified of her own pussy. I feel like the purchase of one vibrator would solve all of Miss Giddens’ problems and would have prevented all the madness. Were you moved by Miles’ death at the end? Did it shock you?

Kristine: I was both moved and shocked. You?

Sean: Yes.  When he is running around going “Where? Where?” looking for Quint. It made me kind of cry.

Kristine: I know, me too. God. What a movie.

Sean: Also, remember when Miss Giddens says, “I’m at sixes and sevens”? I plan to now integrate this into my daily vocabulary.

Kristine: Ha!

Ratings Roundup

The Girl’s Rating: I’m traumatized but it sort of feels good.

The Freak’s Rating: Masterpiece!

A poet on vacation
A poet on vacation

9 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961)

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