There’s a fine line when it comes to watching the savagery of man unfold before your eyes. Films that dance this line are some of the best tales of morality and what it means to be a human and not an animal. But films that cross this line are the ones that over stay their welcome and just become grotesque tales that are more depressing and tiresome as they go on. Peter Brook’s 1963 “Lord of the Flies” crosses that line.
That’s not to say “Lord of the Flies” is a bad film, but that it left a bad taste in my mouth and not for the reasons it was supposed to. The film chronicles the tale of three dozen or so little boys surviving a plane crash in the Pacific and being stranded on a deserted island with no adult supervision. While the boys start out civilized enough and try to come up with rules so they can survive, they quickly devolve into a tribe-mentality who act more like animals than humans. The film is extremely minimalistic and has an almost-documentary style to its filmmaking, like we’re watching a real tribe of all little boys.
The main reason I feel “Lord of the Flies” doesn’t work as well as it could is because of these actors and their uninvested performances. Nobody here feels truly genuine, especially the leader of the group Ralph (James Aubrey), who just looks bored throughout most of the film. Most of the kids look like they don’t know what they’re doing or have any direction to go.
Director Peter Brook was known as an improvisational filmmaker, simply putting the camera in front of the actors and seeing what they came up with. This style often has the benefit of making everything feel more authentic, but only works if the actors can roll with the punches, which these little kids cannot. It’s like watching an episode of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” being performed by people who have never done improv in their lives. While they are children and don’t have as much experience with acting, their performances still bring down this movie.
“Lord of the Flies” is a tale about how we all have this savage instinct inside of us. That if we remove the morals of society, we’re all eventually resort to cruel, beastial acts to survive. The film does a fine job of showing this, especially since this is done using little kids, but that same strength is also a weakness. Moments like Ralph standing up to the hunters has about as much menace as an episode of “Rugrats,” so any moments of savagery just feel out of place for these uncaring children.
In other words, while “Lord of the Flies” has a great message, the execution of said-message leaves a lot to be desired.
Final Grade: C+