William Golding’s classic exploration of the darkness inherent in all of us, Lord of the Flies, is generally seen in one of two lights. It’s either that boring book packed as densely with prose descriptions of the rainforest as its figurative jungle is with liana vines and ferns, or it’s a timeless classic that drags humanity’s hidden evils out from under the murky veneer of civilisation and into the light where they can be exposed for all to see. It’s also highly influential. Its themes and plot are mirrored in contemporary works as varied as The Walking Dead, The Terror and The Hunger Games, but the most recent direct adaptation of Golding’s masterpiece is almost thirty years old. It’s about time we updated that movie with a more faithful – and visceral – adaptation.
Just in case you’re not familiar with the premise of Lord of the Flies, here’s a quick synopsis. A plane full of British schoolboys around the ages of seven to twelve crashes on a tropical island, leaving its passengers stranded. Desperate to survive, they try to establish a rudimentary outpost of civilization on the island and adhere to the rules of society, but when hunger and fear of a monster begin to cause conflict, cracks appear in their vestigial democracy and two disparate camps with conflicting ideologies emerge. From there, things go downhill fast. There’s the influence of the Lord of the Flies himself, Beelzebub (as symbolized by a pig’s head on a stick); the hope of rescue waning to despair; rampaging fire, and of course, murder bloody murder. At its best, it’s a vicious piece of sneering nastiness that showed us the horrors young boys are capable of long before Eric Cartman ever sauntered onto television screens.
It’s also a highly influential piece of fiction. The Simpsons has done it, but the fact the novel is directly referenced in the name of one of Stephen King’s most famous settings, Castle Rock, is testament to its sway. There’s also no denying the presence of Golding’s themes in The Walking Dead or any other story where the characters are stranded outside the confines of a typical society and need to coexist in order to survive. It’s not a stretch to consider a character like Rick as Ralph, the main perspective character in the novel, and a character like Negan as Jack, the main adversary, in this analogy. In fact, Ralph’s and Rick’s internal conflicts are directly analogous. They’re both embroiled in battles for ‘the future of humanity’ and an ongoing Man v Man conflict, but they’re also both locking horns with their own Nietzschean natures. Both characters make viewers wonder whether they’ll fall into the abyss or if they’ll retain their humanity.
So with contemporary novels, television shows and comic books running with the torch ignited by Golding’s incendiary themes, why do we need a new Lord of the Flies? In fact, didn’t you hear something recently about an all-girl Lord of the Flies? To answer those questions, yes, you did hear something about an all-girl Lord of the Flies and we need a new and updated one because this text – especially if done justice with modern filmmaking techniques could be a simply remarkable film.
So, let’s court controversy for a moment. What’s wrong with making a new Lord of the Flies adaptation one with a feminine twist? To be fair, nothing. We should embrace brave ways of retelling stories like this, but for Golding’s magnum opus, we need to go back to basics first. Let’s reacquaint modern audiences with a story that uses allegory to point an angry finger at the problems men have unleashed on the world. Golding was horrified by his experiences in World War II and after becoming a teacher, he was furious with the proselytising nature of books like RM Ballantyne’s The Coral Island. He looked at the boys in his care and he knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that if they were stranded on a tropical island they wouldn’t simply ‘get on with it’. They would do what men have always done. They would give into the beast hiding in their breast and exhorting them to violence. They would fight over the land. They would, quite simply, kill each other. To take that message away from the story and reinvent it with female characters wouldn’t have to be as stereotypical as this parody from The New Yorker quite hilariously suggests, but until we do Golding’s message justice it just seems a little gimmicky to go straight to a gender-based inversion.
That’s not to suggest girls aren’t as brutal as boys are. Far from it. Having seen this taught to fourteen-year-olds, this writer can vouch for the fact that the all-girl group asked to construct rules they would live by if they were in a hypothetical scenario like that of the book was easily the most brutal. Their group was the one to recommend the immediate execution of anyone hurt during the crash or refusing to pull their weight when it came time to put in a shift. They also suggested no changing of societal roles once they were established. To them, it was only fair that if you were the designated toilet cleaner, you stayed the designated toilet cleaner. Naturally, the same was true for their nominated leader. Girls, funnily enough, are humans too. It’s just that with the most recent adaptation coming in 1990 and the novel itself 1958, the novel – which won the Nobel Peace Prize – deserves to be adapted faithfully before it’s recontextualised. And no, Madagascar doesn’t count.
Finally, with that in mind, let’s get back to the most important point. A new Lord of the Flies would make a sensational film. Stripped of its prose, Golding’s story would raise hackles with its escalating tension, bloody murders, violent denouement and almost tragic resolution. It would look and sound amazing too. There would be the impact of stone on skin in a rock battle that would make the one in It look tame in comparison. The thudding of fists, the wash of the ocean, the squealing of dying pigs (and Piggies), the silence of all but cicadas in the hunting scenes, the rending of steel during the inevitable plane crash and the click-clack of Ralph and Jack’s spear-fight, in crisp digital sound, would transport you right to the island. Visually, tropical waves could lap, in stunning HD, at a pristine shore while effulgent sunlight danced across the swelling breaths of the ocean. The verdant jungle would ripple and billow with colourful birdlife and the flames, when they rushed across the island, could bathe the cinema in the bloodshot palettes of Hell. Tell me THAT wouldn’t make Golding proud.
Tell me you wouldn’t watch a new generation of actors daub themselves in war paint, ritualistically dance around the bleeding corpse of their murdered friend, and let the signal fire die as they settle into life in their new dystopian paradise. Tell me that wouldn’t breathe new life into a long revered classic and spark new debates about the nature of humanity and our inner beasts.