The Turn of the Screw Review
Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw is an important novel historically because it changed the manner in which novels were written. Prior to The Turn of the Screw, novels tied up all the loose ends and left very little room for ambiguity or interpretation. James’ work is significant for its unwillingness to spell out the answers for the reader. This changed the way novels were written, and in effect, leaves a very ambiguous tale.
The strength in James’ work is forcing the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. The Turn of the Screw can be read as a spooky, 19th century ghost story. But those willing to look deeper can examine the governess as a woman with extraordinary psychological issues, projecting a world of the supernatural that doesn’t really exist. The Turn of the Screw’s hazy nature and unreliable narration encourages readers to look closely and find their own answers.
I’ve said before that I don’t usually like movie adaptations of novels. But that being said, the 1961 adaption of The Turn of the Screw, titled The Innocents, is a remarkable retelling of James’ work. The Innocents, adapted by William Archibald and Truman Capote (who you may know from reading In Cold Blood) maintains the same high-level of ambiguity and psychological horror as the novel.
The Innocents also uses music to add a sense of delirium and madness to the story. The haunting melody that appears throughout the film is really unnerving. Likewise, starting the film with that melody really sets the tone for the rest of the picture. It’s the perfect companion to the governess’ decaying state-of-mind. I also found out that that same melody was used in the creepy short film featured in The Ring. I knew it sounded familiar!
Perhaps I like The Innocents most for staying true to my interpretation of the novel: that the governess is suffering from severe mental problems brought on by her infatuation with ten-year-old, Miles. While there’s more to it than that, the movie, like the novel, allows for other interpretations as well. Regardless of what you think is occurring (whether a twisted reality or a supernatural entity), the ending will leave you staring at the screen for the remainder of the credits. It’s a really frightening and abrupt ending that takes some liberties not included in the novel.
In case you can’t tell, I highly recommend you check this story out - whether through Henry James’ short novel, The Turn of the Screw, or through the faithful 1961 adaptation, The Innocents. If you’ve seen or read the book, please let me know what you think in the comments below. What’s your interpretation?