Blog Directory CineVerse: Beware of the wee beasts

Beware of the wee beasts

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

As an allegory and cautionary tale about the tendency for human beings to be innately inhumane under the right conditions, William Golding’s literary classic The Lord of the Flies works astoundingly well. As a 1963 film adaptation directed by Peter Brook, The Lord of the Flies achieves similar greatness, expounding on the source material’s dark themes and imbuing the visuals with verisimilitude thanks to the commitment to shoot in monochrome on location with untrained actors. Our CineVerse group conducted a dialogue about this picture last week, with the following observations and opinions made (to hear a recording of our discussion, click here).

What did you find interesting, unexpected, refreshing, or rewarding about Lord of the Flies?

  • It is admirably faithful to the source novel, reproducing the same characters, situations, and much of the dialogue found in the book, although the events are condensed; instead of occurring over presumably several weeks, this story on the island takes place over just a handful of days.
  • The filmmakers chose to shoot in cinema veritĂ© style, lending a documentary-like realism to the look and feel of the movie. To up the authenticity factor, nonprofessionals were cast as the child characters (many of whom never acted again) and the picture was shot not in a studio but on location on a real island near Puerto Rico, where the cast and crew were sequestered for several weeks. Black-and-white film stock was also selected, which accentuates the stark themes espoused in the story and forces us to pay more attention to the characters and situations than the beautifully exotic surroundings, which would have been colorful but distracting to what the filmmakers wanted us to focus on.
  • Although some of the acting from these amateur and inexperienced child thespians is stilted, awkward, and less than desirable, many of these children deliver wonderfully unrestrained, natural, and believable performances that arguably could not have been evoked with carefully trained young actors.
    • Criterion Collection essayist Geoffrey Macnab wrote: “There is nothing affected about their performances. Brook’s technique was as close to that of an anthropologist as a conventional film director. He took the kids to the island, gave them a broad outline of what they should be doing, and then turned on the camera and observed their behavior. He shot hours and hours of footage, then took this raw material and winnowed it down into a very taut ninety-minute film that closely follows the trajectory of the book.”
  • Even though this is a story about and starring pre-adolescent children, the story pulls no punches in its pessimism; as in the novel, kids are killed, hunted, and bullied and a pagan religion is created.
  • This is a very English story about a particular subset of English children that explores class differences.
    • Macnab further wrote that the kids are “from a privileged background. Their fathers are leaders—military commanders, politicians, captains of industry… Class is an issue as well, even in this remote wilderness. The reason Jack so despises Piggy is not just his appearance but also the fact that he is not of the right caste. Yes, Piggy is fat, wears spectacles, and looks like Billy Bunter, but the real problem is that he’s from Camberley. He’s suburban, lower-middle-class—an outsider among all these blue-blooded chorister types.”

Themes explored

  • The thin line between civilization and savagery, and how it’s easy to cross over that line given the right circumstances.
  • Man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, and the inescapability of the human condition, which is often dictated by hate, fright, a lust for power and control, and aggression.
  • Fascism can easily flourish without effective leadership or a shared, collective yearning for common decency and courtesy.
  • Trouble in paradise: The irony of this story is that these kids are marooned on a garden of Eden -like island where food and water are plentiful, there are no grown-ups to tell them what to do, there are no sexual complications to get in the way, and they can play endlessly; yet, violence, chaos, and religious zealotry quickly take root.
  • Rational, intellectual thought is in short supply when mob rule prevails. Ralph, Piggy, and Simon, who each represent the voice of reason and the conscience of the group, are quickly outnumbered by the sheer size, might, and determination of Jack’s tribe.

Similar works

  • Animal Farm
  • Heart of Darkness
  • Los Alivadados
  • The Beach
  • Life of Pi
  • Lost
  • Cast Away
  • Robinson Crusoe
  • The Blue Lagoon and Return to the Blue Lagoon
  • The Most Dangerous Game
  • The Maze Runner

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