Thursday, 19 January 2012

Jack Clayton's The Innocents (1961)

Fig. 1. The Innocents poster.

The Innocents presents the story of one Miss Giddens, a governess assigned to a pair of orphans in the English countryside. As the story progresses she becomes more and more convinced that all is not well with the children, culminating in visions of ghosts and theories of possession. It looks at child sexuality, and the inherent creepiness of children.

The two children, Miles and Flora, are initially presented as a pair of good, if rather lively, children. As the film develops, however, they become more secretive, more devious, and engage in behaviour that is completely inappropriate for their age, such as full-frontal kissing. This disconnect between apparent age and behaviour is worrying, and makes the viewer – and Miss Giddens – cautious.

Fig. 2. Quint and Miles.

This, combined with visions of a couple later confirmed to be dead, raises the question of whether the children are possessed – “the real horror of the film resides in the children. Are Miles and Flora innocent, or are they in league with the ghosts?” (Biodrowski, 2008). The lovers Quint and Miss Jessel, the former groundskeeper and governess respectively, appear to be trying to continue their romance posthumously. However, Miss Giddens is the only one able to see the visions, and her sanity is increasingly called into question. From panicked scenes of charging through the house, hunted by disembodied cries of ecstasy, to screaming at a clearly distressed child, the viewer is unsure of whether Miss Giddens is not simply suffering from schizophrenia – “She was… suspiciously frustrated and sexually repressed. In short, she was what would be quickly labeled psychopathic in this more knowing day.” (Crowther, 1961)

Visually, despite being in black and white, the film uses contrast to great effect. Flora, for example, is the only character who wears all white, emphasising her apparent purity to the point that it becomes subtly wrong when her purity is called into question. Miss Jessel, by contrast, wears all black, identifying her as a mourner and as being inherently threatening.

Fig. 3. Giddens and apparitions.

The film ultimately leaves the conflict unresolved – did Miles die due to the revelation that he was possessed, or was it simply the shock of Miss Giddens’ madness? At no point in the film is it actually made clear whether Miss Giddens’ visions of the dead are real or whether they are simply hallucinations, leaving the viewer on edge throughout. “Is Giddens a reliable storyteller, or are we living through the frustrations of her own life and how she intends to project herself onto the rest of the world around her?” (Sibley, unknown) There is no definite answer, and that in itself is more unsettling than any visions or disturbing un-childlike behaviour.

Illustration List
Fig. 1. Clayton, J. (1961) The Innocents poster. on: 19/01/2012)
Fig. 2. Clayton, J. (1961) Quint and Miles. (Accessed on: 19/01/2012)
Fig. 3. Clayton, J. (1961) Giddens and apparitions. (Accessed on: 19/01/2012)

Biodrowski, S. (2008). Cinefantastique. (Accessed on: 19/01/2012)
Crowther, B. (1961). sThe New York Time. (Accessed on: 19/01/2012)
Sibley, M. (unknown). The Spinning Image. (Accessed on: 19/01/2012)

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