What kid did not fantasize, at one time or another, being left alone, completely unsupervised, for a long, long, LONG period of time? To be allowed to say or do whatever he pleased, whenever he pleased. To eat anything he wanted, to go to bed late, to not go to school, to act or behave as he pleased without reproach. To be his own adult. Usually those kind of thoughts permeated our little minds right after a heavy-duty punishment. In 1990's "Home Alone," we saw a broad, comical take on this fantasy. With 1963's "Lord of the Flies," we get to experience the flip side.
"Lord of the Flies" was required reading in junior high school. William Golding's dark, sobering allegory, set during wartime London, tells the story of a large group of young schoolboys airlifted out of England who are left to their own devices after a plane crash leaves them marooned on an uninhabited isle with no surviving adults. As the boys struggle to adapt to their crude but strangely exotic "Robinson Crusoe" existence, the troop begins to splinter into two opposing sects after failing to come to terms on an autonomous code of ethics. Most of the boys decide to revel in their unsupervised freedom, reverting to primitive, animal-like behavior while resorting to barbaric acts and ritualistic practices. A conch shell becomes the embodiment of power; a boar's head a symbol of lordly conquest. On the other side, a minority group try to repel the tempting force of evil by forming a more civilized commune. Eventually the "survival of the fittest" factor sets in as the anointed leader of the hostile group incites violence to force an autocracy.
Golding's fascinating premise certainly does not hold much hope for the future of mankind. We are conditioned as a people to be civilized; it is an acquired trait, NOT an inherent trait according to the author. And if and when the shackles of goodness and purity are at any time removed to the extent that we are allowed to become our own social and moral dictator, we will invariably revert back to what comes naturally. And with a child, who has been less-conditioned, it will take little time at all. Evil is stronger, easier, and much more seductive. When playing "good guys and bad guys" as a kid, which did YOU prefer to be?
Boasting a surprisingly natural cast of amateur actors and directed by radical stage director Peter Brook ("Marat/Sade"), this lowbudget British effort impressively captures much of the novel's back-to-nature symbolism that I found so powerful and fascinating. The young masters representing good and evil, James Aubrey ("Ralph") and Tom Chapin ("Jack"), effectively portray the resolute leaders of the two disparate tribes, while butterball Hugh Edwards as the bespectacled, philosophical "Piggy" and towheaded Tom Gaman as the quietly sensitive "Simon" are touching as two of the weaker followers who become likely targets of the surrounding chaos and burgeoning brutality. What I love most about this cast is that they act like little boys, not little actors, grounding their often awkward actions and behaviors in reality. Trivia note: one of the secondary boy players is none other than Nicholas Hammond, who went on to play young Friedrich in the film classic "The Sound of Music" two years later.
Brook's use of grainy black-and-white photography, plus the lack of any comprehensive musical score (remember Tom Hanks' "Castaway"?), accentuates the bleakness of its surroundings and feelings of isolation. The movie can hardly be expected to capture fully every single intention of this highly complex novel (most don't), but it does respect Golding's words and captures the very essence of what he wanted to say. For that alone it should be applauded.
By the way, don't waste your time on the 1990 color remake featuring "professionals" like Balthazar Getty. The poetic beauty is all but dissipated in this haphazard, jarringly Americanized update. It makes me worship Peter Brook's version even more.
And what story could BE more disturbing yet topical than "The Lord of the Flies" as it applies to today's "latch-key" society?