Lord of the Flies

A part of this viewing list: Criterion Collection Spine #43: Peter Brook’s Lord of the Flies.

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It is tough getting children to act well; just ask anyone who’s ever had to get children to act well. A vast majority of the cast in Lord of the Flies couldn’t act their way out of a wet paper bag, but thanks to Peter Brook’s careful planning and choreographing of key scenes, and relaxed improvisational allowance in others, the awkward acting ability morphs into an appropriate skittishness for adolescent maroons. This adaptation is well on the mark of the book, with an added intensity of visceral imagery and psychological warfare that only film can provide so effectively. The main strength of the film is that it was shot entirely on location, apart from the opening montage, and the reality of the island setting feeds into the reality of the characters’ development. Without the imposing hand of civilization, regressing to a wild and savage state becomes easy.

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Lord of the Flies is not only a tract about the importance of civilization, but also an interesting thought-experiment on the emergence of new cultural forms. In the film, this is noticeable fairly soon, as the political rifts between the two leading boys, Jack and Ralph, are a microcosm of international political strife. Similarly, the creation of ritual chants and activities to ward off the beastie, and Jack’s clever manipulation of their fear to maintain control have contemporary parallels in our own country. This is no new trick, but its efficacy ensures its continued use. The cognitive dissonance and linguistic lacunae in their vocabulary after the first murder takes place is also telling in terms of their fear. Similarly, the development of face-paint and little to no clothing are marked changes from their initial school-boy attire.

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Still, there are similarities between before and after. The choirboys become the hunters and their discipline, organization, and loyalty as the latter is due directly to their training in the former. They are also the ones who create and enforce the cultural progression of the tribe of boys, while Ralph and Piggy, who’ve maintained their reason to some extent, are increasingly ostracized. All of this terror comes through strongly through the use of liberal cutting and realignments in the editing room, and the sheer amount of footage Brook had on hand to pick and choose from. The final scene is so abhorrent , as Ralph flees the other youths on all fours, much like the pig they are convincing themselves he is, that the appearance of white socks and matching deck shoes of adult proportions, and the adult that is wearing them is a great relief. The monster we’ve only caught glimpses of, the monster that was about to appear in full and terrible force, especially because of its familiarity, is slain just like that.

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