The Blue Lagoon, a classic(ish) 1908 novel by Henry De Vere Stacpoole, has inspired five films despite being pretty creepy. Not creepy in a spooky way, but creepy in a messed-up, this-is-super-problematic way. The 1980 film version, which stars Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins, is likely the most problematic of all the incarnations of the story: It depicts several sex scenes between 14-year-old Shields and 19-year-old Atkins. While the scenes were simulated using a body double for Shields, the film is still uncomfortable to watch.
The plot is relatively straightforward and features standard stuff for a human survival story. It opens with three people shipwrecked on a remote South Pacific island. The only adult in the story doesn't make it, and the adolescents are left marooned together. With their maturing bodies and raging hormones, there are plenty of awkward encounters between the two. But The Blue Lagoon is far grimmer and more disturbing than you likely remember, especially for a movie that makes "young love" one of its centerpieces.
When the movie started filming, Shields was just 14 years old - but she was no stranger to starring in films charged with adult themes. In 1978, when she was 12, she played a sex worker in Pretty Baby, which incited an uproar. For that movie, she wore a body stocking during some scenes, save for one moment in the film when her character poses for a photographer.
"I knew it would be tasteful," Shields's mother, Teri, told People at the time.
The people behind The Blue Lagoon knew they had to take some additional steps to protect Shields during filming because of her age. They were also not keen on inviting the same scrutiny and controversy that had rained down on Pretty Baby, which ended up being largely forgettable and critically derided. For scenes with partial nudity in Lagoon, Shields wore pasties glued to each breast. She also had her long wig strategically glued to conceal her body.
"I was not very developed [during Pretty Baby], and I didn't care much about taking off my clothes. Now I do," she told People after Lagoon finished filming. For the full no-clothing scenes, Shields had a body double.
Shields made headlines for her scandalous roles in The Blue Lagoon and Pretty Baby, and even the United States Congress took note. She was called to testify at a congressional hearing in June 1981 in regards to her participation in an anti-smoking ad campaign. The Department of Health and Human Services canned the ads because they considered Shields a bad role model for young people.
During the hearing, she assured Congress a body double of legal age had been used for all her scenes featuring nudity in The Blue Lagoon.
Richard and Emmeline are the couple at the heart of The Blue Lagoon, and they're cousins. The movie takes place sometime during the Victorian period, an era in which it wasn't uncommon for cousins to marry and procreate. But through a modern lens - or even a 1980 lens - it's off-putting to watch first cousins shack up together.
Early in the movie, pre-shipwreck, Emmeline clearly calls Richard's father "Uncle." She and Richard also share the same last name, Lestrange.