The Blue Lagoon (1980)

(Second viewing, On TV, June 2017) I’ve been revisiting many movies from my childhood lately, and I’m often amazed at how I misremembered some of them. The Blue Lagoon is in a category of its own, because for years, I had taken bits and pieces of the movie and reconstructed it in my mind as something of a horror film. From “two kids shipwrecked on an island; having a baby; baby having trouble feeding; skeleton on the beach”, I had confabulated memories of a stomach-churning drama in which a brother and a sister end up shipwrecked, and grow up to have a baby that then dies of malnutrition. You can imagine my horrified expression when I heard about the film as “the most innocent movie ever!” Checking it out again, I realized my confabulation … but also how, in being so innocent, the film can feel transgressive as well. So, the basics of The Blue Lagoon are, indeed, “two kids shipwrecked”, except that they’re cousins, and a crusty old sailor lives with them for a few years before dying of a drunken mishap (hence the skeleton on the beach later on). They do grow up and have a baby in the middle of a tropical paradise, except that they do figure out how to feed it and escape from the Island more or less accidentally. The finale is halfway ambiguous … unless, apparently, if you see the cruel first few minutes of the sequel. Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins supposedly star, but their acting is terrible and they’re constantly upstaged by the footage of the island and the tropical creatures. Seriously: The Blue Lagoon is far more palatable as nature footage loosely surrounded by a plot than anything else. The curious tone of the film is indeed one of innocence, to the point that it becomes uncomfortable to modern audiences—I suspect that any reaction to The Blue Lagoon is strongly dependent on the social context of the time. Circa-2017 North America isn’t built for innocent earnestness, a sexualized teenager (Shields was, famously, 14 years old when shooting the film), cousins having kids or the kind of Victorian melodrama that this film adaptation of a 1908 novel encapsulates. It’s so innocent that it feels perverse, in a way. And while the movie isn’t the horror-show that I remembered, I’m arguably more off-put by the film as an adult than as a kid.

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