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Ambiguity in The Turn of the Screw


Ambiguity in The Turn of the Screw

Director's note

We live in bubbles. Any attempt to seek an objective truth will seem ambiguous and will be interpreted differently depending on your mindset and your bubble values. We don’t listen to each other, and even if we do, the possibility of understanding one another seems to be more and more remote. Having no reality is the scary reality of our generation.

No opera is more ambiguous than The Turn of the Screw. Henry James could have provided us with a reliable, objective narrator, but he chose to tell his story through the subjective view of the Governess. Do the ghosts exist, do the children see them, or are they merely the nightmares of this hysterical woman?

Benjamin Britten added new layers to the above ambiguity. It is arguable who represents threats to the innocence of these children, and who defends them from those threats. It is certainly logical to see the abusive, corrupting influence of Peter Quint on young Miles, and to see the Governess as a brave heroine determined to free the boy from this evil. But others will see Quint as the free spirit, the friend and the father figure Miles so badly needs, and the Governess as the evil one forcing her rigid, Victorian morality on the child, killing all his inner desires. Which view is right? It’s up to you.

The story may be ambiguous but the individual characters are reliable and believable. Quint seeks a friend, “slick as a juggler’s mate to catch my thoughts.” Miles wants to be with “his own kind.” The Governess protects him and holds him “it may be imagined with what a passion.” This is a fantastic drama of genuine people, of their life and death.

Whichever bubble we belong to, we project the devil on to the opposite party - be it the wrongdoer or the murderous exorcist.

Iván Fischer