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With a dismal 9% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a controversial reputation for its depiction of childhood sexuality, of course we had to review the 1980 film, The Blue Lagoon. It’s hardly great art, but this diverting frolic through ignorance and innocence does contain some fascinating ideas—though more so in the premise than the execution.
Starring a 14 year old Brooke Shields and 18 year old Christopher Atkins, the film is a naked romp through what looks like a Disney attraction, and is rife with sexual situations that will likely make you at least a little uncomfortable. For all that, I consider the movie worth a watch, if for no other reason than the thought provoking nature of the characters’ relationship.
Spoilers Abound – It came out in 1980, people.
Without giving away too much detail, the plot follows two children who end up shipwrecked and living on an island. Eventually the movie is mostly about two naked teenagers, cousins, boy and girl, making a simple life on their island. The plentiful food and water and the building of shelters is part of the more Disney-esque aspect of the movie.
However, as it tends to do, puberty is lurking.
This is where the movie becomes really fascinating to me because these teens, no doubt at least somewhat arrested at the age they were left without adult supervision and society to learn from, must now navigate sex.
We’ll address the incest in the room first. This is a concept that makes most of us at least a bit uneasy but to be honest cousins married cousins commonly for a long time and it frankly still happens. This aspect of the movie seems to be basically a non-issue considering it is set in the Victorian period and Queen Victoria married her first cousin, Albert. Even if we were going to make an issue of the incest, I would still find it forgivable in a scenario where there is literally no one else to have any kind of contact with.
The more interesting journey is their relationship as it goes from being childish and friendly to still childish but sexual. They must navigate their changing bodies without any insight as to why the changes are happening. It is unclear how old the characters are when they are presented as teens (younger actors played them earlier in the movie), but Shield’s character is terrified and then embarrassed by her first period and Atkins’ character is observed to presumably be masturbating. Pregnancy is also tackled, which is terribly fascinating and almost nerve wracking to watch, knowing she has no concept of what is happening to her body or what the outcome will be.
They must also process the emotions that come with puberty and a loving relationship. Much animosity is flung in both directions as the teens try to understand what is happening to them. But they also manage tender moments.
From where I sit in my life, it’s hard for me to call a movie about two teenagers stumbling through sex and emotions a love story. But that is basically how the movie is presented. Aside from the Disney-esque nature of the island, there are some other stumbling blocks in the plot and the movie is not well reviewed, though it did snag an Oscar nomination for best cinematography.
Trivia for this movie abounds. One of the more questionable decisions made by director Randal Kleiser was to put a picture of Shields over Atkin’s bed so he would look at her as he was falling asleep at night in hopes he’d develop a crush for the sake of chemistry. Apparently this worked for a time, though the two stars, possibly due in part to their ages, ended up bickering a great deal. Kleiser also used this tension, filming tough scenes when the stars were bickering.
Other fun trivia about the movie includes the discovery of a previously unknown species of iguana on the island where the movie was filmed.
Brooke Shield’s early career is largely defined by her naked body. Starting with Pretty Baby in 1978 when Shield’s was 12 and continuing with The Blue Lagoon, and Endless Love, Shields has sparked a lot of controversy. So much in fact, that later, she had to testify before a congressional committee that an adult body double was used for all of her nude scenes in The Blue Lagoon. Other creative solutions had to be created for her other scenes, like gluing a long haired wig to her breasts to keep them covered.
Despite feeling a bit like The Swiss Family Robinson, this movie is not geared towards kids, though neither, despite the controversy, is it explicitly sexual. There is also little explicit violence, though we see some brief gore. Suicide is explored, as is death by other means.
I feel the movie should be viewed as a fantasy experiment in what might happen between two, largely innocent, largely ignorant people absent any other input. It’s not a great film by any means. But the premise is an interesting one, and although its Hollywood treatment is a little corny, it’s worth watching and considering how—if at all—such a film would be made today.