Sunday, April 30, 2017

Lord of the Flies (1963)

by G. Jack Urso 

Trailer for the 1963 film version.

Lord of the Flies is a 1963 film based on the 1954 novel of the same name by William Golding about a group of English school boys who are stranded on a desert island after a nuclear war breaks out. The film, directed by Peter Brook, was seen by millions of Baby Boomers in high school English classes who would then practice “duck and cover” drills in case of a very real nuclear war   ritualistically rehearsing their own impending deaths.

Front cover,
early 1980s edition.
The plot for Lord of the Flies is widely published, but, in brief, the boys find themselves on the island after their plane crashes. No adults survive and the boys quickly divide into two groups: one led by Ralph, a believer in democracy, and the other by Jack, the anarchic leader of the school’s choir. Ralph wants to return to civilization while Jack and his followers quickly descend into violent, uncivilized behavior. The resulting clash becomes an allegory for the Cold War. Standing on the brink of nuclear war, we vacillated between giving into our baser instincts and descending into violent  conflicts  or listening to the better angels of our nature and working together for the common good. This conflict created a social mass psychosis and we personified our fears until they commanded us like the proverbial Lord of the Flies the shadow of which still haunts us today.

One important image in the film is the bonfire; it represents the boys' desire to return to civilization. As events unfold, and the boys descend into anarchy, the fire becomes unattended and goes out and the chance for rescue by a passing ship is missed. The lesson is clear as we give into our baser instincts, civilization slips further and further away.
Stoking the fire in the 1963 film.
The lessons from the novel and the excellent 1963 film version are as relevant today as they were then if not more so. America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia are all in the throes of violently bitter partisan politics. Many nations are seeing nationalist political movements rising up that threaten the advancement of civilization and limit or turn back progress on societal and scientific development. The fire of civilization is going out all over the world, and fewer and fewer people think it is worth keeping lit.