Saturday, September 17, 2016


The beautiful black and white hides the shallowness of the psychology


The film is a marvelous black and white film. It Has the magic of black and white; It has the depth of buildings, inside and outside, only seen in shades of grey, particularly dark grey. It has the perspective of shade and shadow and the menacing, awesome, fearful, fathomless profundity that implies some gravity in the drama. Cast in this partly old Tudor and partly old Georgian mansion this black and white “coloring” or absence of “coloring” is frightening, disquieting, perfect for the atmosphere that is expected from the story. We are entering a horror story.

The film chooses to emphasize one aspect of Henry James’s story. The absolute paranoia and even maybe worse, something like psychosis, of the main character who is given a name she never had in the novella, Miss Giddens, giddy indeed from even before the very start. This naming the unnamable makes it more normal whereas the whole film is going to show she is absolutely berserk, from the very first instant we see her. I will regret the age of the actress. This governess is supposed to be hardly 20 or over by one or two years maximum. The actress does not fit that assumption. She cannot be in her first job just out of her family. She is too old and she behaves and acts too old, and her immature psychosis in front of some fear that is her own and she turns into a fright, a panic, or even worse, does not fit with this too obvious age.

Apart from that, right from the beginning she seems immature and emotional, like for example having the coachman stop at the gate for her to proceed on foot is absurd when you know everyone is waiting for her at the door of the mansion, servants and children (even if only one child at that moment). The fact that she finds the girl in the park around the mansion though she should have been at the door waiting for the arrival of the new governess is unacceptable even for a house where there is no master, except a housekeeper. The governess is at least surprisingly unaware of what she does not do right, but there is something wrong in the general picture.

And sure enough the film insists on her becoming more and more deranged by all kinds of noises and fears she develops in an old mansion she is convinced is haunted in a way or another. The two dead members of the personnel become her fixation: the previous governess who killed herself in the lake, which is not the original version, and the valet turned house manager whose death is not made explicit in the way it happened. But the innuendo about an unacceptable pregnancy is pushed aside. It is even hinted that the previous governess was old and not so beautiful.

The insistence on the relation between the children and these tow people is excessive and at the same time meaningless because the cause of the two kids coming under the guardianship of their uncle is not clarified enough and the two kids are not shown as they should: traumatized by the death of their parents, traumatized by their uncle sending them to this country mansion in some sort of exile, and traumatized by the death of the two people they had built a transference relation with. All that counts for nothing because it is not used except to build the phantasm of some haunting ghosts in the mind of Miss Giddens. And anyway what is wrong with a man teaching a boy how to ride a pony? You have to be particularly perverse to see some evil in that kind of action.

As for the children being possessed by the ghosts, the film does not show it really. They are close and that is normal since they have survived together at least three traumatizing losses, and they feel Miss Giddens is not entirely sane from their very first encounter. Miles will even say so and Flora in her final temper tantrum says about the same thing. In fact the children are just at first testing the woman and then playing with her when they find out she is haunted by some fright of some ghosts she imagines around her. They may be cruel but they are not haunted. Miles is depicted as cruel as cruel can be when he pushes the woman into her most vulnerable unacknowledged mysterious psychological layers by kissing her on the lips. Note this game is maybe a little bit too strong for a ten year old boy, and it is not what the original novella says: Henry James showed in details how the nameless governess was emotionally attracted and that this attraction was sexually haunted by the belief that anything physical was wrong, especially for children, and yet at the same time this nameless governess was physically attracted by the boy she kisses and hugs at least profusely.

Then the final death of Miles, rejecting Miss Giddens who is insisting on the presence of Quint’s ghost, remains unexplained really. It appears as if it were a way to protect himself against Miss Giddens but that is overreacting really and the final scene of Miss Giddens kissing the dead boy on the lips is just absurd. She likes her children dead so that they run no risk to be perverted . . . by her, and yet she desecrates Miles with a necrophiliac kiss.

The psychology of these two traumatized children is overlooked and the perverse desires of Miss Giddens are underrated, so that the film seems to have no real explanation: we are dealing with some unexplainable events, though these events can be entirely explained with a little of help from the first psychiatrist we can come across in the underground. The film is of course from the very early 1960s and that was a time when we considered psychiatry as a science of psychological diseases and we refused to consider non-clinical psychiatry explaining the behavior of people in a more meaningful way than behaviorism. And unluckily that’s the final explanation that floats on top: the mansion is haunted and it took possession of its inhabitants, the children and the new weak and very obtuse governess.


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