Tuesday, July 30, 2013
LORD OF THE FLIES (1963)
(August 1963, U.S.)
Clearly in the world of mind-boggling entertainment, there's something undeniably intriguing about being stranded on a desert island. Why else would we follow GILLIGAN'S ISLAND for so long and wonder why the Skipper and the Professor never once tried to fuck Ginger or Mary Ann? Why else did else did a concept called SURVIVOR kick off an epidemic of garbage reality shows that have completely dominated television of the 21st Century like a horrible cancer? Why else was one of Tom Hanks' best screen performances as an island survivor in CAST AWAY (2000)? Why else was ABC's LOST so much fucking fun to watch week after week? With the (obvious) exception of my first example, the common thread any story of survival on a deserted island shares is the slow descent into fear, madness and violence from otherwise ordinary, traditional people. William Golding's LORD OF THE FLIES has been the most literary example of such a concept. Many of us likely had to read this book in high school. I didn't, but I managed to read it on my own later in my adulthood.
In the opening sequences of Richard Brooks' film version, we witness nothing but still photographic shots of proper English school boys living in the midst of a war. They're evacuated from England and it appears that their airliner is shot down by briefly glimpsed fighter planes, and ditches near a remote and presumably deserted island. Miraculously, though, every single one of these boys appear to escape their plane completely undamaged and still wearing their clean school boy clothes (go figure that!). These boys, whom we come to know as Ralph, Jack and Piggy (just to name the main protagonists) do not forget that their English and as such, are obliged to put any of their fears aside and create amongst themselves, a world of rules and order, just as grownups would were they on the island with them, until such a time comes that they're rescued. Ralph and Piggy serve as the symbols of logic and reason, while Jack may be considered wild and one who will strive to act against the norm and structure of their privately-created island society. Although the boys start out as one group lead by Ralph as appointed "Chief", it's not too long before the island has been divided into two groups: the sensible (lead by Ralph) who work daily to keep the fire going in the hopes that it will be spotted by a ship or plane and the savage (lead by Jack) who act only to hunt for meat and to do battle with the mythical "Beastie" that many of the boys claim to have seen in the jungle, which as it turns out, is only a dead fighter pilot still hanging from his parachute and still wearing his helmet.
Events between both "tribes" of boys continue to escalate as many of them are succumbing to the madness of the island and the "convenience" of living in a world of freedom with the authority of grown ups. Madness inevitably leads to murder when one boy is mistaken for the "Beastie" and accidently killed and then when Piggy is intentionally killed by a giant boulder for the reason of simply being the only fat kid amongst the group who's been an easy target by the boys from the moment the film begins. By film's conclusion, Ralph is the only sane and reasonable member of the island in a world of mad, tribal hunters, which (naturally) makes him the enemy of the society. As Ralph runs for his life and staggers across the smoke-covered island, it would appear that Ralph is going to die at the hands of insane hunters who were once proper English school boys in the "former life". One can either consider it absolutely mind blowing or ridiculously far-fetched that at that very crucial moment, Ralph is stopped by the fine white shoes of a grown man who is a naval officer. It's incredible, actually, how all of that incomprehensible madness comes to an abrupt halt as soon as the boys are confronted by the grown ups who have finally arrived to rescue them. Study the boys' faces for a moment and decide for yourselves if they're feeling disappointment that their free-living world has come to an end because they've rescued or are they feeling a degree of shame because they have, for all practical purposes, been busted by the grown ups and are feeling the humiliation of behaving like "naughty" English school boys.
Now while I can't account very much for the updated 1990 version (I watched it only once and I don't remember it much) of this classic story, I can say that LORD OF THE FLIES is a truly surreal and beautifully-photographed example of classic black and white cinema that not only defines an edgy style of film making in the 1960s, but also briefly defines a period of the same era that explored the fear of the nuclear age and its inevitable horrors. One may also view DR. STRANGLOVE and FAIL SAFE (both 1964) to get a further idea of what I'm talking about.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jack: "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!"