Seminal Cinema Outfit

Classic, Foreign and Rare Film

Film notes on Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies is a 1963 British film adaptation of William Golding‘s novel of the same name. It was directed by Peter Brook and produced by Lewis M. Allen. The film was in production for much of 1961 though the film was not released until 1963. Golding himself supported the film. When Kenneth Tynan was a script editor for Ealing Studios he commissioned a script of Lord of the Flies from Nigel Kneale, but Ealing Studios closed in 1959 before it could be produced.

The film is generally more faithful to the novel than the 1990 adaptation.

Cast

Plot

A group of British schoolboys, living in the midst of a war, are evacuated from England. Their airliner is shot down by briefly glimpsed fighter planes, and ditches near a remote island.

The main character Ralph is seen walking through a tropical forest. He meets an intelligent and chubby boy, who reveals his school nickname was Piggy, but asks that Ralph not repeat that. The two go to the beach where they find a conch shell which Ralph blows to rally the other survivors. As they emerge from the jungle it becomes clear that no adults have escaped the crash. Singing is heard and a small column of school choir boys, wearing dark cloaks and hats, appearing to be walking in pairs, led by a boy named Jack.

The boys decide to appoint a chief. The vote goes to Ralph, and not Jack. Initially Ralph is able to steer the children (all of whom appear to be aged between about six and fourteen) towards a reasonably civilised and co-operative society. Only boys holding the conch are allowed to speak during meetings or “assemblies”. The choir boys make wooden spears, further reinforcing their appearance as warriors within the group. Crucially Jack has a knife, capable of killing an animal.

The boys build shelters and start a fire using Piggy’s glasses. With no rescue in sight, the increasingly authoritarian and violence-prone Jack starts hunting and eventually finds a pig. Meanwhile, the fire, for which he and his “hunters” are responsible, goes out, keeping them hidden from a passing airplane. Piggy chastises Jack, and Jack strikes him in retaliation, knocking his glasses off, and breaking one lens on the rocks. Ralph is furious with Jack. Soon some of the children begin to talk of a beast that comes from the water. Jack, obsessed with this imagined threat, leaves the group to start a new tribe, one without rules, where the boys play and hunt all day. Soon, more follow until only a few, including Piggy, are left with Ralph.

Events reach a crisis when a boy named Simon finds a sow’s head impaled on a stick, left by Jack as an offering to the Beast. He becomes hypnotized by the head, which has flies swarming all around it. Simon goes to what he believes to be the nest of the Beast, and finds a dead pilot under a hanging parachute. Simon runs to Jack’s camp to tell them the truth, only to be killed in the darkness by the frenzied children who mistake him for the Beast. After this, Piggy explains a series of rationalizations and denials that parallel directly the Kübler-Ross model, commonly referred to as the “five stages of grief”. The hunters raid the old group’s camp and steals Piggy’s glasses. Ralph goes to talk to the new group using the still-present power of the conch to get their attention. However when Piggy takes the conch, they are not silent (as their rules require) but instead jeer. Roger, the cruel torturer and executioner of the tribe, pushes a boulder off a cliff and kills Piggy.

Ralph hides in the jungle. Jack and his hunters set fires to smoke him out, and Ralph staggers across the smoke-covered island. Stumbling onto the beach, Ralph falls at the feet of a naval officer who stares in shock at the painted and spear-carrying savages that the children have become, before turning to his accompanying landing party. A small boy tries to tell the officer his name but cannot remember it. The last scene shows Ralph weeping as flames spread across the island.

Theme

As with Golding’s book, the pessimistic theme of the film is that fear, hate and violence are inherent in the human condition – even when innocent children are placed in seemingly idyllic isolation. The realisation of this is seen as being the cause of Ralph’s distress in the closing shots.[1]

Production

Filming

The parents of those chosen are reported to have been provided copies of the novel, from which a commentary had been physically removed; those pages included describing the culmination of the hunt of a wild sow as an “Œdipal wedding night“.

The film was shot entirely in Puerto Rico at Aguadilla, El Yunque and on the island of Vieques. The boys in the cast had mostly not read the book, and actual scripting was minimal; scenes were filmed by explaining them to the boys, who then acted them out, with some of the dialogue improvised.[citation needed]

The NYC premiere of the film was attended by some of the original cast members followed by a photo shoot in Times Square (picture subsequently published in a Life Magazine article) and a party at Sardi’s attended by others such as Zero Mostel.[citation needed]

Trivia

In the final scene the sailors rescuing the children are clearly marked as belonging to the Royal Navy frigate HMS Troubridge.[citation needed]

Song

The song, heard throughout the film, of the boys singing is Kyrie Eleison which, translated from Greek, means “Lord, have mercy”. It is an expression used in a prayer of the Christian liturgy.

Reception

Critical response

The film received universally positive reviews. Based on 18 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an overall approval rating of 100% from critics, with an average score of 8.3/10.[2]

PopMatters journalist J.C. Maçek III wrote “The true surprise in Lord of the Flies is how little these child actors actually feel like ‘child actors’. With few exceptions, the acting rarely seems to be forced or flat. This practiced, well-honed craft aids Brook’s vision of a fly on the wall approach that pulls the viewer into each scene.”[3]

Accolades

Peter Brook was nominated for the Golden Palm at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival.[4]

Home media

The Criterion Collection released it on DVD and Blu-ray Disc in America and Canada. Janus Films also released the DVD in the UK.

 

Further reading

An excerpt from the review at Views from the Sofa:

“The problem is, the film seems a bit disjointed and chaotically made. It feels as if the director told the kids what the general gist of the scene would be and let them improvise their way through it. This leads to huge pauses, weird cuts and stunted dialogue. Scenes go by where nobody really seems to say anything. There seems to be a lot of kids chanting or shouting at each other with no real purpose. It’s very strange to watch.”

 

 

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