The Innocents

innocentsEverything in The Innocents stems from the idea that a young spinster could be attracted to a young boy. The ghosts, the voices – they might be in her head. When she arranges for everyone to leave but the boy and herself, we’re not sure what to expect. Does she want to exorcise the demon possessing the boy, or does she want to seduce him?

With source material (Henry James’ The Turn Of The Screw) that is called the first Freudian ghost story, The Innocents is about a relationship of great repression. A governess takes care of children when they’re going through a sexual awakening, and all sorts of interests and urges start to manifest themselves. If not for the matriarchal position and the need to maintain a platonic bond, the governess could be a real object of sexual attraction (like having a crush on an elementary school teacher). But hopping into bed with kids you’re supposed to protect is at least a violation of trust.

Maybe it’s easier if the governess is old and ugly. In 1961, Deborah Kerr (Miss Giddens) was not. Her beauty and youth are noted by the maid, and by the young girl, Flora, who is her charge. Kerr replaces the former governess who drowned herself (the death of Quint, the coachman, broke her heart). Yes, the house is lovely and big, but the story of the former governess is a discordant note.

So is the arrival of Miles, the boy who’s supposed to be at school and is sent home for being an “immoral influence.” Clearly, this disturbs Miss Giddens, and she feels worse for knowing that Miles and Flora idolized their previous caretakers, whose ghosts seem to haunt the estate.

This idolization is the ironic result of implied molestation by the coachman and governess. The old maid Mrs. Grose says (in oblique, Victorian euphemisms) that the couple had sex in front of the children, and may have used them in some of their deeds. Not only would this have been grotesque, it would have violated their role as protectors. This is what Miss Giddens worries about: that the children are no longer innocents, and that any apparent childishness is a façade to a warped development.

But is that really true? Or does Miss Giddens, goaded by the gossipy Mrs. Grose, believe the kids are sexually damaged, when the real source of their pain is the death of their friend? For Miss Giddens, there is no doubting her own motives.

There are ghosts in The Innocents, and many scenes of distressing tension. But the greatest horror is the relationship between Miss Giddens and Miles. When he kisses her on the lips, she doesn’t know how to react. In a way, she is moved. She has kept herself under lock for so long that these kids have touched a wildness she can’t reason, and must hate and try to destroy.

Poor Miss Giddens.

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