LADY OF THE FLIES: WORKSHOPPING A BAD IDEA

by Richard Worth

Hollywood seems once again to be trying to prove that it is incapable of coming up with an original idea, while the ideas that they do have are disturbingly off base and fly in the face of prevailing winds. The latest is a forthcoming remake of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies featuring female characters playing the traditionally male roles. Predictably, it got the internet, usually known for its tempered and considered reactions, good and riled up.

Lord of the Flies is a complex and challenging piece of literature. As such, adapting it with such a major fundamental change, threatens the integrity of the original story. Having the story revolve around a group of girls, rather than boys, presents some hurdles but I think it doesn’t necessarily destroy the story’s function.

Let’s face it; this steamer is going ahead regardless of audience reaction. If the reaction to the whitewashing of Kusanagi in Ghost in Shell didn’t stop that production, the reaction to this film, which will be defended precisely because it features an all female cast won’t work either. Rather than take the usual approach of tearing this adaptation down before filming has even begun, we can instead workshop it, and look for a potentially interesting film that could get made.

Firstly, let’s dismiss the idea that the events of Lord of the Flies couldn’t happen if the principal characters were female.  Golding said of his own work that he specifically used male characters because “a group of little boys are more like scaled down society than a group of little girls will be.” It’s a fair observation, particularly at the time the book was written.

Society’s patriarchal structure favours males and creating a microcosm of that society would require the same preference, but that this waxes both ways. The dominance of patriarchal societal structures means there isn’t enough reference for what would happen to the girls in this adaptation.

…we can no more infer that a matriarchal tribal society would devolve into savages than we can assume it would become a haven, from what little historical and political reference we have

We don’t want to reduce this point to “young women are as cruel as young men”, although there is some truth to that. But we can no more infer that a matriarchal tribal society would devolve into savages than we can assume it would become a haven, from what little historical and political reference we have.

What we do know is that the female psyche is affected by a male-dominated civilisation. If Golding’s boys are wrought feral by the toxic masculine ideas perpetuated by a patriarchy; surely there are some grounds to explore  the toxic femininity created by the same system.

By no means are these fair comparisons, but films like Mean Girls and Heathers already venture into this uncharted territory. They do so in the familiar and limited confines of high school and more importantly civil society. But what if  the sort of “girl-on-girl” crime that Tina Fey writes about was taken to its illogical extremes, fuelled by the gender conformities pushed onto young girls and a lack of social boundaries?

What if, as a workshopped example, the corpse of the pilot that the boys refer to as ‘The Beast’, something that is to be hunted and destroyed, isn’t treated with the same level of threat by the girls but as something else? What if their ‘Beast’ is, instead, an ‘Angel’ and the tribe becomes convinced that they don’t need to help each other or themselves because that’s a job best left to “the men”. Then, upon finding a picture of the deceased pilot’s wife, they decide that they can only be saved if they try and make themselves look like her, drawing lines of division amongst the girls. One group hates the others for trying too hard to appease The Angel, while the others hate them for not trying hard enough,  jeopardising them all.

The absence or replacement of an aspect of a story can, if done well, explore that aspect from a worthwhile and unexpected angle

That’s just one idea and it’s imperfect but it helps me to get to my point. The absence or replacement of an aspect of a story can, if done well, explore that aspect from a worthwhile and unexpected angle. Take Y the Last Man by Brian K Vaughan and Pia Guerra. I have had such a hard time suggesting this book to feminist friends despite it being one of the best enquiries into the influences of patriarchy on day-to-day life. A quick overview is that everything with a Y chromosome dies save for one guy and his pet monkey, leaving women in charge of the world, and it turns out the world isn’t all that great a place in this scenario. If you haven’t already read it, please do so.  In both Y the Last Man and our treatment for Lord of the Flies, the theme is how destructive, infectious and embedded a force patriarchy is, even without it having to be present.

Perhaps an all-female Lord of the Flies executed with this as a core consideration could work and maybe even be enjoyable – I’m willing to place a heavy bet they still needlessly CGI the wild boar though – but there is one more note I’d add if this were my production. For the love of all that is holy, get some women on the production team.

David Siegel and Scott McGehee are the guys behind this picture, and whilst I am sure they are both adequate writers and directors, with a keen ear for dialogue, great plotting and intricate characterisation, their complete lack of experience of being women will be a major problem.

Not only does it continue a trend of women being under-represented at the highest level of film production, but with such a delicate subject matter, women’s voices need to be heard on this picture. Every production of Lord of the Flies has been able to get in touch with male savagery because it was created by a man. If this picture is to get anywhere, if it is to address the idea of an idealistic matriarchal society or a feral one, it has to be created by a woman.

 

 

Featured Image by Laura Beuregard, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – Pacific Region’s (Ritidian Beach – Guam NWR Uploaded by PDTillman) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 


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