As it was our new Victoria/Vancouver Island chapter’s second week as a member of the Monday Movie Night empire, our Island Invasion theme was filled with great options. There were Academy Award winners, block buster hits, star power, and a plethora of options for a great night of movie watching. Never a movie-viewing group to shy away from the controversial, this week’s choice was
Papillon Blue Lagoon due to a last minute, post-vote insurrection from the Vancouver chapter.
There are a number of reasons this film could be considered controversial, the most notable of which is the depiction of children in varying degrees of undress and incest leading to pregnancy. Between children who look to be around 8-9 running around in the nude, a 14-year old Brooke Shields flaunting about without a shirt, and a just 18 Christopher Atkins lying nearly naked on top of said 14-year old Brooke Shields, this move was quite clearly a turning point in child labour laws in Hollywood. There are numerous stories about how there was a body double for all of Ms. Shield’s nude scenes and how there was always something to cover her breasts and reproductive organs, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that whoever was making the movie did not have the most… artistic of intentions.
The film focused on two major plot themes. The first, most obvious, and part befitting our Island Invasion theme is of course survival. The second, more uncomfortable plot point, focuses on two pubescent young people grappling with raging hormones without any explanation as to why they feel like they do, or what to do about it.
In the beginning, when the children wash ashore they are accompanied by an older, surly, drunken shipmate. He has clearly spent time on desert islands in the past as he knows what foods are safe, basic carpentry, and why its best to avoid the local indigenous population. Over the first act he imparts as much wisdom on the children as he can while nursing a healthy alcohol dependency thanks to washed up casks of what we presume to be rum. When he finally buys the farm the children are treated to their first view of death, which up until then had been called “sleep you don’t wake up from.” While the Swiss Family Robinson did it more wholesomely, and with a way cooler treehouse, the film makes an admirable attempt at touching on the perils of living off the land. There are poisonous berries, toxic rock fish and sharks to contend with, and the children innocently stumble into all of them, but manage to evade death one way or another. There is little to no discussion of fresh water, and the film seems to gloss over that point, but otherwise the film makers seemed to do a good job of depicting life in a tropical paradise.
The second major plot theme, that made all of us incredibly uncomfortable, takes place in the second and third acts of the film. As the two children grow and enter puberty, the film begins to focus almost exclusively on the growing sexual tension between them. As the film dives into this topic it entirely neglects all other aspects of survival. Where does the drinking water come from? How are two teenagers subsisting on nothing more than fish and tropical fruit? How have they learned to build a second level on their treehouse? Who taught them how to spear fish? Important questions aside, where early in the film the two characters would simultaneously call the patriarch of their family father and uncle, their familial relationship is completely ignored. Did the director do this on purpose in hopes we’d be distracted from their blood relation? Hopefully, but probably not. All sensibility is thrown callously to the wind in favour of a very young love story that focuses heavily on sex. Words can not describe how uncomfortable we all were watching this, and it’s hard to say which was worse – the incest or the nude minors.
This was a bad movie. There are no two ways around it. Between the above mentioned issues, poor script, improbably survival, and shitty aquarium stock footage, there were no redeeming qualities about this flick. Unless you’re a pedophile.