Comparing Ambiguity in The Turn of the Screw and The Innocents Essay

Comparing Ambiguity in The Turn of the Screw and The Innocents Essay

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Ambiguity in The Turn of the Screw and The Innocents

 

How successfully does the black-and-white film version of The Turn of the Screw, The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961), render the ambiguity of James' original text?  Ambiguity, the art of deliberately creating something that can have more than one meaning, lends itself to the written word without difficulty. A written story can involve ambiguity in the characters, plot, narrative - every factor in the story can have to it a sense of uncertainty. However, uncertainty concerning ambiguity is subtly different from uncertainty involving vagueness; the former is a deliberate ploy by the writer to leave interpretation open to the reader's own imagination, whereas the latter comes about due to a lack of detail delivered on the part of the writer, probably due to lack of talent or attention.

 

With The Turn of the Screw, Henry James crafted an immensely complex and highly ambiguous book - there is nothing vague here; when Jack Clayton decided to make it into a film, he faced an upward struggle. Adapting a book for a film is always beset with difficulties - the written word has the ability to be far more subtle than the projected frame - but capturing the ambiguity of The Turn of the Screw would be immensely difficult. Words do not have to be precise in their meaning but a picture on a cinema screen is just a picture - there is little subtlety or uncertainty. A director has to employ imaginative techniques to make a viewer doubt what he is so evidently seeing. This was especially true in 1961, when The Innocents was produced, a time before sophisticated visual effects came into use.

 

Almost all of The Turn of the Screw is open to alternate interpretation ...


... middle of paper ...


...e. As with many book-to-žlm adaptions, a desire to change the ending is the žlm's undoing.

 

In some respects the žlm captures the ambiguity of the original text extremely well - the existence of the ghosts and supporting characters, the involvement of the children - but the more subtle ambiguous parts of the book are lost in the žlm, which is too specižc in places, particularly the ending.

 

One point that should be taken into consideration is that this essay was written based upon a version of The Innocents that had been cropped to žt a television screen ratio, losing the original widescreen footage. Therefore it was impossible to fully appreciate the director's true vision; consequently, some claims (such as Grose rarely being in the same shot as the governess) may only stand when a third of the picture has been lost.

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