Saturday, May 30, 2015

Paradise Lost

I recently watched the 2000 film The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a Richard -- a young, disaffected tourist who finds paradise in a hidden island community off the coast of Thailand.

There were a lot of things I didn't know about the movie until after I'd watched it. It's directed by Danny Boyle... but is widely considered by critics to be his worst effort. It was actually filmed in Thailand... and the production was accused of harming the environment, which led to a lawsuit for which they were ultimately ordered to pay damages. The film was to have originally starred former Boyle collaborator Ewan McGregor... but the studio demanded the casting of the more famous DiCaprio, leading to a huge falling out between Boyle and McGregor.

All this a lot of fuss over a movie that ultimately isn't very good, a movie that's now an odd footnote in the career of a man who won on Oscar (for Slumdog Millionaire). But I lay the failure at the feet of the script, not the director or the stars. The Beach is based on a novel, and perhaps that book does a better job of telling the audience why it's supposed to care. In any case, the film does such a poor job that I certainly don't want to read it.

Ultimately, the plight of the main character feels like the epitome of selfishness, of a "first world problem." Disenchanted with normal tourist experiences, poor Richard longs for a better one. He doesn't even know what he wants, really, though he ends up shallowly defining it as "finding the perfect beach." When he and two hastily made friends wind up finding a small group of people living on a secluded island, he can't be happy with a life at the never-ending "beach resort." He winds up having an inexplicable Colonel Kurtz-like meltdown where he goes crazy and strikes out on his own. But even that doesn't take. At the risk of spoiling a predictable ending, Richard's actions ultimately ensure that if he can't find happiness on this island (or indeed, anywhere), no one will.

The movie honestly didn't feel that unbearable as I watched it, but my opinion of it rapidly declined the more I thought about it. Ultimately, it's hard to recommend much about it other than a trio of decent performances. The character of Richard may be a spoiled brat at his core, but Leonardo DiCaprio throws himself into the role in a way that makes the character authentic. Tilda Swinton captures an odd kind of charisma (with a tinge of menace) as Sal, the leader of the island community. And Robert Carlyle is suitably unhinged as Daffy, the crazed traveler who sets Richard on course for the island. features an insightful bit of cyber-vandalism that sums up this movie perfectly. Someone has entered this tagline for The Beach: "Once in a while, a movie comes along that defines a generation. Let's hope to God this ain't it." I give it a D+. If you've gone these 15 years since the film's release without seeing it, just keep on keepin' on.

No comments: