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Lord of the Flies
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Lord of the Flies is the classic 1963 film adaptation of the classic novel in which a group of tween boys descend into primitive brutality while stranded on an island. It's an unsettling comment on the animal nature lurking within and without humanity that is (mostly) held in check by civilized society; the choice of tween boys as the archetypes for this allegory is as perfect and obvious as it gets. Much of the violence is strongly implied if not shown -- the boys' getting shot down in the plane is told via a series of photographs and sound effects of a boys' choir and machine gun fire, for instance. However, there's still plenty of violence, much of it unsettling. One of the boys is bullied mercilessly: he's first verbally bullied when he confides in the one boy who is his friend that he had the nickname "Piggy" at his old school. This friend betrays him to the others, who immediately call him "Piggy" at every opportunity. The verbal bullying of "Piggy" inevitably turns physical as the boys remain on the island: his glasses are swiped from him to start the bonfire, and as they descend deeper and deeper into tribal groupthink, "Piggy" suffers a terrible fate. Another boy is brutally murdered by boys armed with wooded spears -- no blood or gore, but scary enough for younger and more sensitive viewers. Another boy is shown getting flogged on his bare behind while other boys maliciously laugh at him. This movie should provoke discussion among families about human nature and how "groupthink" and "mob rule" can exist in places and situations far removed from what's shown in this movie.
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What's the story?
Based on William Golding's award-winning allegorical novel, LORD OF THE FLIES is the story of a group of English schoolboys marooned on a remote island. At first, they operate according to the structure they're used to ("Let's make a lot of rules!" shouts one of the boys). Ralph, thoughtful and democratic, is selected as their leader. He plans for the long term, keeping a signal fire going. But when no one comes to rescue them, civilization slips further and further away. Jack and his "hunters" take over, becoming more and more savage. They paint themselves and make sacrifices to a mythical "beast," first the heads of the animals they kill for food, and then one of the boys, killed in a wild ceremonial dance. They murder Ralph's last follower, a chubby boy called "Piggy," and they are chasing murderously after Ralph when they're found by rescuers.
Is it any good?
The movie has some very scary moments, and the overall theme may be particularly troubling for some kids. But it's more kid-friendly than the 1990 remake, which updates the story with a contemporary setting and changes the boys' nationality to American. Dark and sometimes gory, Lord of the Flies has some power, but it's not as good as this 1963 original. Teenagers should read the source book by Nobel Prize winner Golding.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Lord of the Flies' messages. What points is it making about humanity and our basic nature? If you were in the boys' position, do you think you would be able to maintain the current laws of society?
People often use Lord of the Flies as a metaphor in situations that become brutish and evoke a kind of "survival of the fittest" behavior, such as adults trampling over others and getting into fights over the latest toys on Black Friday. Can you think of other situations, serious and not-so-serious, that this metaphor might fit?
This movie is an all-too-rare instance of a film becoming a classic on its own terms, as worthy as the book it's based on. What are some other examples of book-based movies that are as good as the book, if not better?
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