Today in Adaptations That Should Never Happen: two men decide that a female version of Lord Of The Flies is exactly what the world has been waiting for. They're wrong, and here's why.
William Golding's seminal novel has been banned and studied in schools around the world ever since it was published in 1954. It's a fascinating story to analyze, and unfortunately Golding's social comments remain relevant today. Even more unfortunately, Warner Bros. has seen fit to turn the story on its head by producing a movie adaptation that recasts the characters as girls. While at first glance this may seem like a fresh take, or even a progressive step forward, the writer-directors have managed to fundamentally misunderstand the point Golding was making. Which is a shame, because what we really need right now is a faithful adaptation of the novel.
Lord Of The Flies Is A Critique Of White, British Masculinity
We all know the story — a group of strapping young English lads get marooned on a tropical island, and an attempt at order soon spirals into a tussle for control, as the boys bully and torture their way into savagery. Many have taken this to be an examination of human nature, concluding that we all have it in us to descend into barbarous acts. And while this is one thread in the tapestry Golding wove, it was actually society, not human nature, that the author was critiquing.
Golding was inspired — or rather, incensed — to pen Lord Of The Flies after reading R.M. Ballantyne’s Coral Island. This classic children's novel follows three boys stranded on a Pacific island as they invent amazing devices, team up with Christian missionaries, and generally have a lovely time romping with their schoolfellows in sand, surf, and sea.
Golding thought this was a pile of old bollocks. Having spent years at an all-boys grammar school, drilled to recite the victories of the British Empire and witnessing all the bullying that young boys inflict on each other, Golding was convinced that Coral Island's tropical adventure was far from what would really happen in this situation. So, naturally, he wrote his own version.
In Lord Of The Flies, the boys (several named after characters from Coral Island, because Golding was just that shady), crash-land on a Pacific island during a wartime evacuation. Set in an unspecified time period, the war the children are escaping is noted to be nuclear and has already destroyed the British Isles – a nod to the Cold War climate Golding was writing in.
The characters attempt to follow the rules set out for them by their upbringing, touting British values like "keeping a stiff upper lip," and setting up a rudimentary documentary system. Of course, this soon goes out the window. The children shirk their duties and develop paranoid fears about the island, believing in a "beast" that is stalking them at night. Meanwhile, the casual bullying of the not-so-fondly nicknamed Piggy descends into outright assault. Tensions within the group escalate when Jack forms a rival band, and it all ends in a bloodbath that sees Piggy murdered and two other boys tortured. Fun in the sun!
A New Adaptation Could Be Just What We Need
Lord Of The Flies demonstrates that, even when removed from the culture that formed them, children who are trained to be arrogant and domineering will only play out these toxic behaviors until they are all destroyed. Ultimately, Golding's characters were a product of masculine imperial entitlement, which Golding wanted to expose as dooming humanity. So much for childish innocence.
And so much for the idea that this allegorical tale is universal. The decision to recast the characters as young girls in the new movie is incredibly shortsighted, and contradicts everything Golding was trying to say. Before you jump to the comment section, no, I'm not insinuating that women are inherently more enlightened than men and that a female version of Lord Of The Flies could not exist. You only need to watch the cult classic Heathers to see how toxic femininity can be.
So what's the problem with gender-switching Lord Of The Flies? The problem is that Lord Of The Flies is a critique of hegemonic masculinity, not femininity. The problem is that there are two men writing this story, and I seriously doubt their ability to understand what it's like to grow up as a woman. The problem is that this adaptation is primed to make the same this-is-human-nature conclusion that misses the point Golding was trying to make.
Basically, this movie is so problematic and it hasn't even been released yet. What's worse is that a new Lord Of The Flies movie could be fantastic right now. There are plenty of comments to be made about our current society, especially considering the nuclear war setting — something which is on all of our minds for the first time since the '60s. If the filmmakers wanted to shake things up a bit, a mixed-gender group would be really interesting. And if they really wanted to be progressive, some of the characters should be children-of-color and queer, so that the scriptwriters could update Golding's comments about bullying to reflect prejudices in modern society.
But instead, this film is likely to become Girls Are Just As Bad As Boys by Me, A Man... and that's just not the point at all.
Tell us in the comments: Do you think an all-female Lord Of The Flies would work?