Peter Brook’s adaptation of Lord of the Flies isn’t the definitive masterpiece your 11th grade English teacher would have you believe. It’s probably why most don’t waste a week of class time showing it anymore. The film has its ups and downs, because of how Peter Brook chooses to tell the story. Lord of the Flies has two distinct styles within it, and while this makes for a disjointed whole, it also makes for a gripping finale.
The first half of Lord of the Flies, which sees Ralph, Piggy, and Jack begrudgingly working together to make camp and attract rescue, mimics the feel of a documentary. This creates an objective look at the characters, their actions, and the plot, yet keeps the audience at a distance. Brook keeps the camera tight on the boys, which attempts to put the audience in the action, but fails to map the island. With the geography of the island obscured, it becomes difficult to properly place the action, and even harder to become immersed in it. Because the parameters of the island are undefined, it’s hard to tell when, say, Ralph is walking into danger, and hence, there’s very little dramatic tension, even though it feels like there should be.
The lack of involvement, however, does make the film’s second half seem more exciting. As soon as Jack divides the island, Brook begins using his spatial shortcomings to his advantage. It becomes increasingly more difficult to tell what is going to happen or how it plays out. For instance, Brook raises the tension during the boys’ bonfire celebration, and edits the murder that closes party with jump cuts. It’s disorienting and ambiguous. The documentary perspective, which at first hindered the film, turns on the viewer, because instead of experiencing the murder in long shot, the boys attack the camera straight on, breaking the fourth wall and attacking the viewer. Finally, Brook brings the viewer into the film and punishes them for wanting to be there.
Ultimately, it’s hard to say if the ends justify the means. By keeping the audience at a distance for so long, Brook runs the risk of losing them entirely. However, because he makes the finale such a visceral experience, it’s hard to say he did us or the book any injustice.