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The novel Lord of the Flies attempts to interpret man, sin, and God. It succeeds. The movie Lord of the Flies presents only a few levels of Golding's interpretation. But what it does, it does well.
The book concerns a group of English boys who revert to savagery when wrecked on a desert island. Civilization, Golding emphasizes, has thinly veiled, but not destroyed, the beast within us. The novel succeeds both as adventure and as allegory.
Golding's careful variation of tone largely explains his success. He combines the simple narration of a boy's adventure story ("Ralph inspected the whole thirty yards carefully and then plunged in"), Biblical phrases which suggest the allegory ("The sow collapsed under them and they were heavy and fulfilled upon her") and brutal statements which leave no doubt about the allegory ("Piggy glanced nervously into hell"). His style features effective personifications -- take "the lagoon attacked them" and "the laughter beat them."
Editor Gerald Fiel and Director Peter Brook apparently recognized that they could not recreate many of the undertones produced by Golding's subtle style. The film barely suggests the identification of the devil with a boar's head--the Lord of the Flies. It scarcely explores the complex character of Simon--prophet and martyr--whose murder follows his dialogue with the Lord of the Flies. But it does capture the power of both Golding's story about boys and his philosophy about man.
Tom Hollyman, the director of photography, deserves much of the credit. At the outset, one sees the beautiful aspect of the jungle, sun fills the lagoon, a small boy gazes at a lizard with wonder. Later the film depicts the savagery of the jungle: as Ralph runs from the schoolmates who are trying to kill him, the forest dissolves into a buzzing, gleaming hell. A few frames of Piggy--fat, isolated and sensible--show that he is a very real little boy as well as an allegorical character. Often the film benefits from a significant sequence of shots, as when the picture of the boy gazing at the lizard switches suddenly to that of another boy trying to kill an animal.
The movie uses sound effects as well as photography to indicate some of Golding's varied tones. The choir's chant "Kyrie eleison" becomes first a march and then a primitive, frightening rhythm (but one hears a choir singing when Simon's body floats in the glowing sea). The buzzing of flies around the Lord of the Flies conveys the same overpowering, sickening fear as does Golding's description.
Occasionally, however, the director's use of photography and music becomes excessive. In the book a storm heralds the dance which culminates in Simon's murder; Golding describes the storm in a few terse paragraphs. In the movie, on the other hand, the storm crackles with so much sound and fury that the viewer almost expects to see the label "symbol," rather than a flash of lightning, streak across the sky.
Hugh Edwards' portrayal of Piggy as a plodding unwanted little boy is realistic in every gesture and expression. Despite a few awkward movements, Tom Chapin presents a realistic Jack (the bully who becomes a beast). The part of Ralph--the nice, normal boy -- offers fewer striking characteristics; James Aubrey is, however, a believably nice, normal boy. Although a little of their ad libbing seems forced, the crowd of boys generally reacts realistically.
The final scene of the movie exemplifies both its power and its differences from the book. In Golding's novel, the scene is more complex: Jack sobs, Golding philosophizes. The film version contains a stunning shot of Ralph, having run from his pursuers, stumbling onto a British officer. The camera shows him slowly looking up the officer's high legs to his clean white socks and finally to his clean, white, British cap. Tears run from Ralph's wise eyes while the not-so-wise eyes of a neatly-dressed sailor stare uncomprehendingly.
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