Lord of the Flies (1963)

Review #1,277

Director:  Peter Brook
Cast:  James Aubrey, Tom Chapin, Hugh Edwards
Plot:  Lost on an island, young survivors of a plane crash eventually revert to savagery despite the few rational boys' attempts to prevent that.

Genre:  Adventure / Drama
Awards:  Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes).
Runtime:  92min
Rating:  Not rated.  Likely to be PG13 for some disturbing themes involving children.
Source:  Janus Films

“We've got to have rules and obey them.  After all, we're not savages.  We're English!  And the English are best at everything!”

I’m sure many have read William Golding’s novel, and some of you might even have seen the 1990 American screen remake.  I have done neither, so I have no points for comparison.  So you can imagine that my first encounter with the story came from the black-and-white 1963 British drama by Peter Brook. 

It’s a great first experience, seeing it all unfold with fresh eyes, with no burdensome obligation to compare to its source material.  My immediate reaction to the film is one of being provoked – it is a disturbing tale, to say the least.  It is the kind of work that would be required viewing for anyone interested in themes of survival, group dynamics and the dark abyss of the human mind. 

Stranded on an unknown island after a plane crash, a group of about twenty-odd students attempt to work together to survive, only to be divided into two clashing factions with opposing schools of thought – one group is led by a fearmongering self-proclaimed leader who resorts to primal, anarchic instincts and methods, while the other group is led by an elected leader who insists on rules, logic and order. 

Brook, an experimental theatre director, walks the docu-realist path, giving us shots of natural realism of children on their own, braving the harsh environment.  And indeed that was the case – the picture was shot in Puerto Rico, in the wilderness with non-professional child actors.  Short of being The Revenant (2015) with lots of kids, Lord of the Flies sees Brook improvising with the material, but what comes out, I believe, is a faithful adaptation of Golding's work. 

With the absence of adults on the island, what the children have are black-and-white notions of thought and action.  I think that's the real tragedy  That most of them are not brought up to see shades of grey.  It's a battle between the greater future good, and the infinite selfish now.  We all know who should win, but that is not how the real world works. 

The film may be slightly dated and takes a leisurely approach to storytelling, but the subject matter remains engrossing if haunting, to the point that the film startles with great irony – its economically-edited opening sequence of still images suggest that war had caused the children's horrid circumstance after their plane was struck down, a war started by men who hadn't grown up.

Verdict:  The docu-realist and improvisational filmmaking styles bring William Golding’s source material to life in haunting and disturbing ways.  


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