Lord of the Flies: Descent Into Savagery

How long can a man remain civilized before descending into savagery? Although society provides rules of civilization to abide by, the evil nature of mankind will always exist within. In both William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies and Harry Hook’s movie adaptation of Lord of the Flies, we see a group of boys who are stranded on an island progressively lose their innocence as their savage impulses become stronger.  William Golding wrote this novel in 1954, and since then there have been two cinematic adaptations.

The first adaptation directed by Peter Brook was released in 1963 whereas the second adaptation directed by Harry Hook was released in 1990. Both films adapt the narrative from Golding’s novel, however the second adaptation greatly varies from the original work. Therefore this essay will focus on the analysis of Golding’s novel from 1954, and Hook’s movie adaptation from 1990.  ​​

The novel is able to capture the theme of the story much more effectively than the movie adaptation.

There are many important components in the novel that are missing in the film. The changes between the novel and the movie are very significant. Hook removes many elements that are crucial to the ideas that Golding was trying to present. For example, in the movie the boys are American military cadets. This gives the audience the impression that these boys must have prior knowledge of basic survival skills and that they have previously been exposed to violence. Therefore, the natural savage impulse within every human being is harder to perceive through the film.

By making the boys military cadets, Hook removes the power struggle between Ralph and Jack, which is a very important turning point in the novel. Since they are shown as military cadets, Ralph is declared the leader because his military ranking is higher than Jack’s. Whereas the novel shows Jack does not think Ralph should be the leader, and asks the boys to vote again. In the novel, we are told the boys are part of a British choir, thus displaying a sense of purity and innocence. It is because of this display of purity and innocence that we are able to see the transition the boys make from being civilized individuals to becoming savages. The impact is much greater because readers would not expect choir boys to commit sins such as murder. This allows readers to  understand the shift from well-mannered boys to savages.

Although this novel has many reoccurring themes, such as the loss of innocence and civilization versus savagery; the central theme of the story is the internal conflict between being a law-abiding citizen with morals against being a savage displaying acts of violence. Hook is not able to portray the ideas set by Golding accurately. In the novel, Golding portrays the loss of innocence as the natural course of events when human desire is not controlled by the rules of society. Upon being detached from the influence of society, the boys lose their innocence and revert to darker, more primitive ways of behaving. The basic plot of the adaptation is correct, however, dissimilarities appear in the beginning of the movie. Golding’s novel allows readers to use imagination when reading about the journey on the island, whereas Hook presents a clear scene in his visual interpretation leaving little to imagine. ​Hook uses a fluid directorial style in his adaptation by using lots of camera movements, slow-motion techniques, and frame changes. The first major difference between the novel and the movie is found in the opening sequence of the film, where we meet the pilot. For example, the first scene shows the pilot slowly sinking underwater in slow motion, where he falls from above the frame to underneath the frame. We see one of the main characters, Ralph, swimming downwards into this frame and grabbing the pilot to pull him back up, still in slow motion.

Hook goes back and forth between both the above frame and underneath frame to portray the scene after the plane has crashed. The scenes underwater are serene and quiet whereas the scenes above the frame are noisy and full of panic. When going between frames, we see the water lapping over the camera to show the transition from above the frame and underneath the frame. The camera pans around to show the other boys shouting for one another and trying to stay afloat. Hook uses this opening sequence as a metaphor because the serenity below the frame gives way to the panic above the frame, therefore showing how civilization gives way to savagery. Golding’s novel is set in a dark, violent, deserted tropical island​whereas Hook’s setting is a more colorful tropical island. ​In Golding’s novel, there is no pilot present when the plane crashes and the boys land on the island. In the movie, the pilot is rescued from the sea by Ralph and brought back to a tent, in which he is severely injured and delirious, yet alive. The pilot’s presence is unnecessary and does not follow the narrative of Golding’s novel.

In the novel, the pilot does not survive the crash, therefore, allowing readers to understand that these boys have no adults there to guide them. As the story progresses, the boys see the dead parachutist and assume he is the beast. They do not realize that the “beast” is simply the dead pilot who used a parachute to land safely. The presence of the dead parachutist may serve as a symbolic link to the adult world. Prior to the dead pilot landing on the island in his parachute, Ralph and Piggy wish desperately for a sign from the adult world in the previous chapter. “If only they could send us something grownup…a sign or something” (94). That same night, the dead parachutist drifts onto the island. Therefore showing how the dead parachutist could be their last severed tie to civilization, as well as the manifestation of the beast whose existence was feared yet not confirmed. ​A major factor in the novel that is not present in the movie is the conversation shared between Simon and the severed pig’s head. Hook fails to display this interaction and instead shows brief shots of Simon staring at the pig’s head. “There isn’t anyone to help you. Only me. And I’m the Beast….Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!… You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are the way they are?” (158).

In the novel, Golding goes into details about Simon and his interaction with the pig’s head, which he sees as ‘The Lord of the Flies’; who identifies itself as the beast and acknowledges that the beast exists within all human beings.  In a previous chapter, we are told that Simon suggests that the beast is only the boys themselves, therefore this sign is crucial in confirming that his theory is correct. Since this scene is omitted from the movie, Simon’s theory cannot serve as foreshadowing. Simon is the first character to see the beast as a component of human nature. In the movie, Simon’s encounter with the head is quickly dismissed. We only see the camera focused on Simon staring at the pig’s head intensely. Since we do not see or hear the conversation between The Lord of the Flies and Simon, we are unable to make the connection leading to Simon’s death. In the novel, when the conversation takes place we know that Simon has gained knowledge that the beast is within every human, and he wants to share this with the rest of the boys. However, in the movie we simply see him staring at the pig’s head until the scene changes and shows Simon discovering the pilot’s body in a cave. He wants to share with the rest of the boys that there is no ‘beastie’ and that the beast is simply the dead pilot. The only similarity shared between the novel and the movie is the scene where Simon is returning to the boys, and he is mistaken for the beast and murdered. As their belief in the beast continues to grow, the boys become more savage, and it is this savagery that leads to Simon’s death.   ​

Another crucial scene that is downplayed in the movie is Piggy’s death. In the novel, we see that there is a conch shell found by Ralph and Piggy. The boys use this conch shell to gather all the boys after the crash and continue to use it during their meetings. Whoever is holding the conch shell has permission to speak and all the other boys must be quiet. This demonstrates that the conch shell is symbolic of civilization. Throughout the novel, we see Piggy as the voice of reason providing insight to the group of boys. In the movie, the boys are not reunited by the sound of the conch shell, therefore implying that the boys were not previously strangers to one another and removing any sense of unity. As the voice of reason, Piggy holds the conch shell and attempts to talk some sense into the boys about their savage behavior. He asks whether it is better to have rules and agree or to hunt and kill. As a response, in both the novel and the movie, Roger pushes a boulder down the mountain killing Piggy and shattering the conch shell. Golding links Piggy’s death to the shattering of the conch because the conch is symbolic of civilization. By destroying the conch shell, the boys have lost all civilization and have fully become savages. “Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of a true, wise friend called Piggy” (202).

Although the movie deviates from the novel, the moral of the story is presented as the internal conflict of civilization versus savagery. By removing key components from the movie, Hook completely misses the ideas presented by Golding throughout his novel. The novel has a greater impact than the movie because the novel allows readers to see ordinary boys driven to behave as savages due to the lack of authority and consequence for their actions. Hook’s lack of emphasis on many important symbols takes away from the true moral of the novel. Hook’s adaptation is an insanely flawed and inaccurate version of Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Both the novel and the movie are successful in portraying the innate human evil which exists in every human being. However, Hook is not as successful because he omitted crucial scenes from the movie.

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