Apparition or Illusion? Ghosts and Neurosis in The Innocents

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Photo Credit – The Innocents, 1961

We’ve all seen it before – and it’s a frustrating trope.  One person (often the insightful, level-headed, observant wife) believes that the house, child, etc., is haunted (or possessed).  Annoyingly, the cynical, often condescending detractor (the husband, usually, in contemporary horror) remains completely unfazed by whatever alarming occurrences are taking place and refuses to take helpful, significant action (see Sinister and The Shining, for just a couple examples of this phenomenon).  The equation stems from, I believe, a contemporary cultural awareness of sexism, and our understanding that maybe the “little lady” isn’t crazy when she senses that something’s truly wrong (with the hotel, the house, the kid, and so forth).  But let’s crank the clocks back to a novella written in the 19th century, long before the Women’s Rights Movement, and then a bit ahead again, to 1961, when the movie based on the novella was released.  The Innocents, based on Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw,” is either a soul-chilling ghost story or a complex jaunt into the frenetic world of acute neurosis, depending on whether or not you think Mrs. Giddens (Deborah Kerr), the governess and leading lady, is imagining things.  We are not frustrated viewers who want the protagonist to believe his “pesky” wife in this film.  Rather, we’re not sure we believe the female protagonist’s suspicions of haunting.  Of course, “The Turn of the Screw,” and even the film, The Innocents, were products of a time in which women were often labeled hysterical and neurotic, so we should hardly be surprised that the film’s intrigue stems, in part, from the prospect (though, I would argue, not the certainty) that our female lead is severely unhinged. Continue reading “Apparition or Illusion? Ghosts and Neurosis in The Innocents”

Apparition or Illusion? Ghosts and Neurosis in The Innocents