Lord of the Flies (1963)

Written & Directed by Peter Brook

My introduction to “Lord of the Flies” was a strange one. I have never read the original novel by William Golding, though I assume it is a fascinating read. Instead, I was introduced to the work as a stage play at my high school. I only attended a few plays at my high school, which had a fairly reputable drama program, but “Lord of the Flies”, or “Lord of the Flicks” as it was called over the morning announcements one morning, was one of those plays. And I greatly enjoyed the story it had to tell. So how interesting that I might find myself viewing the original film in another academic setting, in an Intro to Philosophy class in college.

For those unfamiliar with the plot of the work, it centers around a group of English school boys who are the only survivors of a plane crash in the Pacific Ocean. They wind up on a small, remote island and must work together to survive. Ralph (James Aubrey) is initially appointed “chief” of the tribe, only to soon be taken over by Jack (Tom Chapin), who fought for the seat of chief in the beginning. Jack and his band are the splinter group, going against what Ralph says and hunting the “beast” on the island. Soon great tension arises between the two groups and danger and tragedy await the group of boys.

To start, let me just say that this is a fascinating work to examine in regards to philosophy. Like Hobbes and Locke’s views of the State of Nature, this film takes place in a vacuum and not a real situation. These boys are the only survivors of a plane crash? No adults survived? And they all lived without even a broken bone or scratch? I don’t think so, but for the setting of the film it can be forgiven the unlikelihood of the event because it is what happens on the island that is worth noting.

The film starts a little slow, developing the setting, characters and situation full enough for the story to unfold. The story is somewhat slow throughout, in fact, but once we get acquainted with the island, the boys, and the story, the pace of the film matters not. I was gripped by the power struggle and the senseless goings on by these boys. At one point in the story, Piggy (Hugh Edwards) remarks that everything would be alright if adults were there, but rings false in this philosophical tale about the nature of all humans. The fact that they are children is not a factor in my opinion, or in fact, in the opinion of Hobbes or Locke.

In addition to the great story, the technical aspects of the film are great too. The visuals for one are quite good, including a number of close-ups and extreme close-ups that are very well composed. The choreography of actor’s bodies and faces within the frame keeps the visuals arresting and interesting. But what was most remarkable was the cast, which consisted entirely of children actors, who, for the most part, did not even act after this film. Simon (Tom Gaman) was my favorite, but Ralph, Jack and Piggy were also good. It is remarkable that the cast of children would be able to carry the entire film with a story like this one, but Peter Brooks, who wrote and directed the film, must have worked magic on his cast and crew to craft such an entertaining film adaptation of the William Golding classic.

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