The Beach. 2000. Directed by Danny Boyle. Screenplay by John Hodge; based on the novel by Alex Garland.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Guillaume Canet, Virginie Ledoyen, Robert Carlyle, Peter Youngblood Hills, Paterson Joseph, Zelda Tinska, Victoria Smurfit, Daniel Caltagirone, Peter Gevisser, Lars Arentz-Hansen, and Tilda Swinton. Figment Films.
Rated R. 119 minutes.
Before I’d seen Shallow Grave, I saw Trainspotting. That movie left me reeling. It was one of the movies I saw which truly shocked me, but not in some bad sense, it left a deep impact on me. Not only because I had drug, as well as alcohol troubles of my own many years ago. Simply that I found the movie such an excellent piece of work; one of the first movies I saw in my life personally that impressed me beyond just being entertained. Danny Boyle is a great director. I’m not huge on every single film he does. However, he’s made enough films I think are wildly interesting that I consider him one of the better filmmakers from the last 20 years, absolutely.
The Beach, from the first time it came out, left another kind of impression on me. I ended up going to Europe, a bunch of different places, nothing like Richard and his adventures in this film, though. But I think a part of me felt the need to travel, honestly, due to the beginning of this film (minus the snake blood and seeing a bloody, dead body). The optimism in the character of Richard is pretty infectious and it spurs on the adventurer in me. While the latter half of the movie especially dashes all that to bits, there’s still something awesome about the adventure here.
But above all else, it’s the insanity of this film, the chaotic feel Boyle gives the plot which consistently draws me back to watching The Beach from time to time. There’s plenty of adventure, and even drama, but what gets me most is a feeling of existential dread and horror that sets in harder and faster than might be expected.
Though Robert Carlyle is only in the film briefly, his character serves a purpose, as well as the fact he plays it incredibly well. There’s also this spooky moment when Daffy (Carlyle) says his goodbye to Richard (DiCaprio), extending his hand over the wall, his face out of sight. I find myself going back, over and over that moment; it’s really something. Almost even creepier than when Richard finds Daffy’s body, bloody on the floor.
You can see there’s a hypocrisy in the life of these people on the island VERY CLEARLY when Richard accompanies Sal (Tilda Swinton) back to the mainland where they’ll be getting supplies. No matter how hard you try, unless you’re actually starting a real self-sustaining society, there’s no way to cut yourself/your utopian society from the rest of the modern world. No way. And the desperation all the village members display when asking Richard to get all the things – the commodities they’re unable to get back on the island, where they want to cut themselves off – shows us exactly how they’ll never be able to do that regardless.
Danny Boyle has a great sense of visual style. Every one of his films has a distinct appeal. Trainspotting had a gritty but also surrealist sense about it. Others have a lower budget yet excellent atmosphere. The Beach has a bunch of breathtaking visuals, from the island scenery to the water which surrounds it and the various bodies of water actually on it, before transitioning into a dark and foreboding atmosphere, which at one point takes on the look and style of a video game. There are really interesting bits. Moreover, Boyle shows us the bloody aftermath of a shark attack in all its viciousness, affecting both the characters and the audience. So from one scene to the next, we’re on a real adventure. At times the scenes are bright and glorious. Others, each frame feels cloaked in darkness, saturated with shadow and the brief emergence of light in various areas. Boyle literally takes us from the shiny world in which Richard lives traveling through the different places, dipping into their culture here and there, to the heart of darkness on a beautiful, idyllic island which proves to be full of head games, betrayal, and plenty danger. Using his masterful senses, Boyle puts us right alongside Richard; for better, or for worse.
The performances are spectacular. Leonardo DiCaprio, even in his younger days, was always someone interesting to watch. This film is no different. He truly embodies the sense of excitement and wonder that Richard needs, and the character is fully rounded because of his presence. Plus, he does so well going from a semi-sensible travelling adventurer, out looking for fun, to a young man bent beyond his breaking point, a man whose whole worldview has changed drastically and put him, literally, in the line of fire. Some actors aren’t able to do such a transition, but Leo makes it believable, instead of someone who seems crazy right from the beginning.
Add in Carlyle’s small cameo near the start and things get very interesting. But without Tilda Swinton, I’m not sure the island itself would’ve been as wild and full of intrigue. She is an amazing talent, especially in the last few years as she’s taken on roles that require her to all but literally disappear into the characters (think: Snowpiercer and Trainwreck as of late; to name only a couple). Here, she plays a conniving, secretive, and deceitful woman. The relationship she has with people on the island plays a large part in the eventual downfall of their little society. Once the halfway mark hits, The Beach becomes even more terrifying because of her character’s misguided determination to keep the beautiful island closed off to the outside world. What a god damn performance – my favourite of the film, even above DiCaprio.
A 4-star film, for sure, Danny Boyle’s The Beach has many different aspects: plentiful adventure, solid acting, mystery, as well as even a slight smattering of horror. Certainly not my favourite out of the Boyle filmography, but still a really excellent movie. Many people didn’t like it; the box office wasn’t amazing, nor were the critical reviews at the time. Although, I honestly believe this is a worthwhile piece of cinema. Check it again and see what you think. Let me know in the comments – I always love to hear someone else’s view on a film not everyone loves. Personally, I dig it, and always found this exciting to watch whenever I get the chance.