Lord of the Flies

Saturday, 25 August 2007

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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