In Victorian England, the uncle of orphaned niece Flora and nephew Miles hires Miss Giddens as governess to raise the children at his estate with total independence and authority. Soon after her arrival, Miss Giddens comes to believe that the spirits of the former governess Miss Jessel and valet Peter Quint are possessing the children. Miss Giddens decides to help the children to face and exorcise the spirits. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The film begins with a totally black screen and the sound of Flora singing for several seconds; then the 20th Century Fox logo fades in and out. The singing continues for a few seconds before the opening credits begin. As the credits display, we see an anguished Miss Giddens praying on the left side of the screen. Her actions are not explained until the film's climax. See more »
All great films engage us to lesser or greater degree: some emotionally, some intellectually -- a few, equally.
No film in history, to my memory, seduces the viewer into actively co-creating the piece as it unreels, as does "The Innocents." Immediately, vividly, and subtly, it arrests then implicates the viewer in every frame.
Its first "image," in fact, is a blank (black) screen -- and the haunting sound of a child's song. Instantly, viewers unconsciously react, emotionally (as to all music), to the beguiling yet off-putting song and the voice. Emotional tension, established immediately.
Yet, one's mind never stops producing thoughts and images. So, without any visual cues from the screen, the haunting song produces images in viewers' own minds -- each no doubt different. Already, then, viewers are seduced into supplying their own mental images and, whether they know it yet or not, have been brilliantly and subliminally placed in the Deborah Kerr role. This, before a single production credit has appeared. We are watching a shadow: a nothing. And our minds demand we fill it with something.
Thus does Jack Clayton's astonishing "The Innocents" begin. Certainly, other films have used the same opening device. But none with "The Innocents'" payoff.
For, as it develops (based on Henry James', "The Turn of the Screw"), "The Innocents'" themes are, "What do you see? What do you believe is true? Is it? Who is 'innocent?' The children? The nanny? You?" The emotional undertow is inescapable, perhaps more so because two-thirds of the trio of protagonists are "children in peril," always a surefire hook.
But "in peril" from what, exactly? Deborah Kerr's possible paranoia / schizophrenia? Ghosts? Or our own powerful, perhaps lurid, imaginings of what may or may not have happened to these children from their deceased and perhaps sexually perverse tutors? The children's memories or imaginings of what did or didn't happen? The film unfolds with some of the most beautiful cinematography in history (Freddie Francis). "The Innocents" requires full-size screening, or at least letterboxing to fully appreciate the visual poetry supporting the suspense.
Jack Clayton's production and direction rank among the finest in screen history.
The miraculous work he pulls from his cast is uniformly jaw-dropping.
Despite Deborah Kerr's ravishing natural beauty, one never recalls even a single performance in which she was "Deobrah Kerr": she was always the character -- whether a nun ("Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison"), an adulterous sexpot ("From Here to Eternity"), a Tennessee Williams underdog ("Night of the Iguana"), a strong-willed soprano-singing teacher ("The King and I") or a romantic comedienne ("An Affair to Remember").
Contrast Kerr's beauty, talent and career with Elizabeth Taylor, say. Equally ravishing, one was always aware of watching Miss Taylor "act." Even in stunt casting, like her Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" or the debacle of "Cleopatra." Miss Kerr is the real thing. So are Megs Jenkins (Mrs. Grose), Martin Stephens (Miles) and Pamela Franklin (Flora).
The story and filming progressively grow more audacious, until the last heartbreaking sequence between Kerr and young Stephens.
By then, of course, our hearts and minds are so thoroughly complicit in the goings on that the final cry heard on the soundtrack, before we are left again in the blank, black void of our own hearts and imaginings at all we've just lived through, before credits begin to roll, leaves us with perhaps the most haunting of all cinematic experiences.
Why? Because we have made the film as it went along, as fully involved as any character in it -- our own minds contributing all that's unspoken and unseen.
"The Innocents" is the "Citizen Kane" of its genre. And like "Citizen Kane," it transcends genres.
This is an immortal achievement by a team of filmic artists at their peaks. A revelation of what film can be.
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