Monday, January 19, 2009

In A Dark Place

They need to send this film back to the dark place where they found it. I have not read The Turn of the Screw, which is the 1898 novella written by Henry James upon which this film is based. However, it appears that this novella sparked a great deal of debate regarding the intent of James in presenting a ghost story that might be more an extension of normal experience than super-natural forces.

Edmund Wilson was an American writer and literary critic who was only three years old when this book was written. Wilson was the first known person to support the theory that Turn of the Screw was an examination of the Governess and her own insanity rather than a haunted house story. It appears that Wilson's interpretation of the book formed the basis for the screenplay, which left open some interpretation but tended to lean towards the insane governess point of view. I'm not certain how closely the screenplay followed the book or how much influence Wilson had on the finished product, but the film seemed to contradict itself at times, in an effort to leave open the possibilities.

In A Dark Placebegins with a troubled art teacher, Anna Veigh (Leelee Sobieski) who tries to use art as a form of therapy for her students. Her approach to teaching art has put her at odds with her superiors. Veigh uses sex to avoid losing her job, but finds herself referred to another job by her superior. Veigh undertakes the task of caring for the nephew and niece of a wealthy businessman who does not have time or concern for the task. Veigh is handsomely rewarded for taking full responsibility for the children.

Veigh is explained her tasks by the Estate manager, Ms. Grose (Tara Fitzgerald). Veigh soon meets Flora (Gabrielle Adam) whose paintings indicate an other-worldly presence. Flora's brother Miles (Christian Olson) attends a private school but is expelled shortly after Veigh's arrival. It is his third expulsion. The children appear to be progressing well under Veigh's tutelage when she begins seeing curious figures around the property. The kids are obviously troubled and Veigh ends up slowly losing her sanity. She is comforted by Ms. Grose who was initially cold but eventually warms up to Veigh to the point of some girl-on-girl action. As Veigh loses her sanity we are led to believe that the darkness comes from within Veigh rather than the house.

This is where I have a fundamental problem with the script. We are led to believe that a previous caretaker and her groundskeeper lover have both died prior to Veigh's arrival. We have a boy who has been expelled three times for eerie encounters with his classmates. The boy is seen very early in the film swinging a scythe at his sister while wearing a burlap bag over his face. This is long before Veigh begins spiralling downward. The children paint pictures depicting the ghosts that Veigh sees. Yet, in the end, we are led to believe that Veigh has generated the evil herself. Veigh's demons derive from a sexual assault that occurred when she was a child. The indication is that the childhood demons have created a monster of Veigh who has subsequently molested her charges. I could buy this proposal if not for the incongruousness in the story that clearly point to some other explanation. The conflicting plot lines seem impossible to reconcile.

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