Flip over the papers, turn on the TV, study a film closely and be prepared to be bombarded by numerous real-life or fictional cases depicting humanity at its worst. Murders, thefts, assaults… The list of our everyday crimes goes on. In this self-proclaimed civilized world, a world thought to be better than its barbaric, primitive and savage counterpart, it seems that human nature has never been worse. Are we truly as civilized as we think we are? What has happened to our human nature? The concept of civilization has always been frequently used.
We can associate the word with rules, regulations and order, but when it comes to what it truly means, we and scholars alike have been struggling with offering a definite and concrete answer. Meanwhile human nature has been the subject of hundreds of thousands of researches and studies. Real life situations conjure up these questions: is there a mutual reliance and interdependence between human nature and civilization, as what our general beliefs suggest? Or are these concepts in fact a mismatch and that they are in conflict with each other?
No matter what, it is without doubt that human nature and civilization are two inseparable concepts and that their interconnectedness is complicated and delicate. In the journey of trying to understand these two abstract concepts and the links between them, the movie Lord of the Flies (1963, Peter Brook) is able to offer us deep insight into the discussion. As mentioned within the title, this paper aims to explore and discuss the complex relationship between the two concepts through Lord of the Flies, and in turn comes to reexamine and redefine what humanity and civilization truly is.
Lord of the Flies mainly depicts the conflict between good and evil and civilization and savagery and can give us a comprehensive view on the topics of humanity and civilization. In order to carry this out, we will first examine how the film presents the interdependence between human nature and civilization, and then go on to investigate how the film portrays these two concepts as fundamentally at war. These discussions should be able to help us determine what humanity and civilization ultimately means.
It is essential for us to know the setting of Lord of the Flies before we go into deeper discussion of the topic. A brief summary of the film will first be given. Lord of the Flies is a tale about a group of young British schoolboys who are stranded on a desert tropical island after their plane crashes during their evacuation from a raging war. Left to vend for themselves without the supervision of adults, two factions formed: a group lead by Ralph, who aims at recreating a miniature civilization in order to survive and get rescued, and another group lead by Jack, who prefers having fun and hunting.
The story continues with Ralph struggling to get the boys rescue and keep everything in order, while Jack lures and manipulates the boys, one-by-one, from civility and rationality to barbaric savagery and animalistic desire. The film depicts the rise and swift fall of an isolated, makeshift civilization, which is eventually torn to pieces by the savage instincts of those who compose it. As an allegorical work, every single character and object in the film is a symbol. These symbols help to portray the ideas of civilization, order, savagery and chaos and their interconnectedness.
At the first look at Lord of the Flies, civilization is put in a good light. Within the very first 10 minutes of the film, the relationship between civilization and human nature is already examined. The film suggests that the establishment of civilization itself is a work of human nature – the essential goodness in human nature. When human beings form a society or civilized existence, the social contract typically exists to protect the interests of all over the interests of the few, thereby limiting self-interested acts. 2] The formation of civilization symbolizes the suspension of self-interest for the collective good of the others. In Lord of the Flies, once the boys have the chance, they attempt to re-create the structures of society. They elect Ralph as the chief through the very democratic way of voting. They hold meetings to decide what to do. They establish a division of labor, with Jack and the choir being hunters and others building shelters. Most importantly they establish rules to maintain order. Anyone who wishes to speak must hold a conch.
They agree to make a signal fire which should be lit at all times. All these rules, regulations and arrangements symbolizes the formation of a civilization, a civilization to keep everyone safe and everything in order while increasing the boys’ chance to get rescued. Throughout the film, the conch and the signal fire remain as symbols of law and order and act as a barometer indicating the boys’ humanity and connection to civilization. The recreation of a miniature civilization on the island is evidently a product of human goodness, which puts the collective good for others in the foremost.
It is common knowledge that other than human goodness, which is often represented by heroes in films, human evilness, which is commonly endorsed by our typical movie villains, is also a reality. But unlike a coin, humans are much more complicated than just processing two sides which can be switched with a flick of hand.
The common ground here is that the primitive, animalistic and instinctive evilness and human goodness is both innate and coexist. No human being is purely good or purely evil and that there is always a capacity for evil, no matter how small the spark is, in all of us, even in the best of us. Civilization, therefore, is here to act as a mechanism to control and suppress our tendency for evilness, as exampled in Lord of the Flies. In the beginning of the film, the boys, including the good-natured Ralph, have already displayed a small instinctive spark for cruelty and violence.
They tease Piggy because he is fat and Jack particularly is mean to the littleluns (meaning the younger children in the film). However, the constraints of rules and regulations established in the civilization still bind them from acting out their animalistic instincts. Civilization is able to suppress the boys’ barbaric instincts. But as the story progresses, some of the boys, especially Jack and the hunters, gradually give in to their desires to hunt and kill and their hunger for power and excitement.