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The Beach [2000 film] by Danny Boyle

The Beach [2000 film] (2000)

by Danny Boyle (Director), John Hodge (Screenwriter)

Other authors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Alex Garland (Original novel)

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The Beach

Leonardo DiCaprio – Richard
Virginie Ledoyen – Françoise
Guillaume Canet – Étienne
Tilda Swinton – Sal
Paterson Joseph – Keaty
Robert Carlyle – Daffy

Screenplay by John Hodge, based on the novel by Alex Garland
Directed by Danny Boyle

First released, 2 February 2000.

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2000. 114 minutes. Dolby digital 5.1. Widescreen 2.35:1. Extras: audio commentary by the director; deleted scenes.


You’ve heard the old chestnut “the book’s always better than the movie”, haven’t you? Baloney! Foolish claims by snobbish people who think they look smarter because they prefer books to movies. Truth is, it doesn’t matter which one you prefer, or choose to see first, so long as both are very good. The movie may be vaguely based on the literary original (e.g. The Scarlet Letter or The Painted Veil), or it may follow it rather closely (e.g. The Godfather). That doesn’t matter, either. But only so long, I repeat, as both works can stand on their own as works of art.

Alex Garland’s The Beach (1996) is one of those books that have been considerably improved on the screen. Again, the movie adaptation may follow fairly closely the novel or boldly build on it. It matters not so long as the final result is compelling. For instance, Homer’s lame and gory fantasy was transformed into something completely different, and much greater, in Troy (2004). Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus was not much changed on the screen, yet it was greatly improved by the author himself together with a great director, conductor, cast and production design team.

Likewise The Beach (2000) follows the novel relatively closely, yet it improves on it greatly. Fortunately, the author had nothing to do with the screen adaptation. If he had, the chances are this would have been a lesser movie.

Here Be Dragons (i.e. I’m going to “spoil” both the movie and the novel)

There are quite a few changes in the movie, but to my mind virtually all of them are improvements. Let’s take a look at just the most substantial.

To begin with, the characters are far more interesting on the screen. Richard, our first-person narrator, arrives in Thailand in search of something different, something beyond the boring and stultifying way of life in the West. He is not the passive jerk pushed into the Beach adventure by Étienne and Françoise, nor the silly junkie brought up on video games and war movies, from the book. The French couple is also more interesting than on paper, for reasons that will presently become clear.

The Beach set of characters is more limited, but also more vivid and more convincing. Sal is the standout. She is more human yet more sinister, and of course Tilda Swinton must take much of the credit. Many reviewers have lamented the omission of Jed on the screen, but I can’t say I miss him; besides, something of his angst went into Richard’s character where it fits better. Keaty and Daffy are less prominent, but actually more memorable. Daffy’s monologue in the beginning is original and Robert Carlyle makes it scarily intense. And what a marvellous indictment on the Beach before you know anything about it! Paterson Joseph doesn’t have much screen time, but he does have one of the few immortal lines in movie history:

Thank you, Lord, for the two pillars of civilisation. Christianity and cricket.

The plot of the movie is vastly superior to the one in the book. The reasons for the downfall of the Beach, both internal and external, are the same, but they are clarified and developed beyond Alex Garland’s modest powers.

The romance with Françoise (barely suggested in the novel) and the affair with Sal on the “Rice Run” (completely original) supply reasons for Richard’s estrangement that are conventional yet convincing. “Anywhere you go, desire is desire. The sun cannot bleach it, nor the tide wash it away.” This is Richard’s succinct summary, and it comes from the script. The novel never does make it clear why, beyond petty squabbles, the Beach falls. The Outside knocks on the door, or the lagoon in this case, but the more important internal discord remains hazy. Not so on the screen where sexual jealousy, one of most powerful and (alas!) idiotic forms of possessiveness, is joined with cowardly deceit. If Richard hadn’t lied twice about the map, things might have turned out very differently indeed.

In general, much of the verbiage on paper (e.g. the squid poisoning, Karl’s insanity, the Daffy delusions) is ruthlessly pruned on the screen. The result is a much better story, more coherent, more plausible and more moving. Richard’s voiceover in the film is embarrassingly superior to the messy narrative in the novel. It contains plenty of fine original stuff:

My name is Richard. So what else do you need to know? Stuff about my family, or where I'm from? None of that matters. Not once you cross the ocean and cut yourself loose, looking for something more beautiful, something more exciting and yes, I admit, something more dangerous. So after eighteen hours in the back of an airplane, three dumb movies, two plastic meals, six beers and absolutely no sleep, I finally touch down; in Bangkok.

We all travel thousands of miles just to watch TV and check in to somewhere with all the comforts of home, and you gotta ask yourself, what is the point of that?

For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven't tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, it's probably worth it.

You hope, and you dream. But you never believe that something's gonna happen for you. Not like it does in the movies. And when it actually does, you want it to feel different, more visceral, more real. I was waiting for it to hit me, but it just wouldn't happen.

Richard’s journey into the “heart of darkness”, from his alienation from the Beach to complete madness and back, is far more powerful on the screen. It is again rooted in video games and war movies and it does include the surreal Daffy, but the whole thing is not only handled much more stylishly than in the book (which in this respect is frankly puerile), but it’s also expanded and brought to its logical conclusion (something Mr Garland never does). The screen version is greatly helped by one of Leo’s finest performances. All you need to see is his face when he eats that succulent green caterpillar and when he sees the last of the intruders shot before his eyes (he only hears the shooting in the novel, nowhere near as effective). This shocking event brings him back to reality and sanity. He is forced to realise this is no video game. It is real. It is dangerous. It is deadly.

The ending in the movie is completely different. Am I thankful for that! The ridiculous horror stuff from the book, which comes out of the blue and without rhyme or reason, is replaced with a much more plausible, and indeed more dramatic, version. The external and internal causes come together in a way which is almost symbolic. There is no way the Beach can win. If not intruders from the Outside, then the members inside will sooner or later destroy it. But if the ending on the screen does mean something more than the obvious, it means that the seeds of destruction lie inside. After all, if Sal had refused to obey the Thai chief, don’t you think she would have won?

Visually, the movie leaves nothing to be desired. The location is beyond beautiful and it breaks your heart (or mine, at any rate) to think that in all probability this Eden-like place has long since been destroyed by mass tourism. Danny Boyle’s direction is incisive without being obtrusive. He makes the best of the setting and of the cast. There are images from this film which are simply unforgettable, for instance the bloody trail on the beach after the second (extremely graphic!) shark attack or Richard’s manic stare receding into darkness at his last meeting with Keaty. There is also a fantastic swim through the underwater caves between the lagoon and the ocean, but this was unfortunately cut from the final version.

But it’s wrong to dwell too much on the visual side. Magnificent as this may be, the movie is a lot more than mere spectacle. If you are not a die-hard fan of Alex Garland or one of those movie fans who regard IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes as a gospel, you might want to give this one a try. As Richard concludes the story:

And me? I still believe in paradise. But now at least I know it's not some place you can look for. Because it's not where you go. It's how you feel for a moment in your life when you're a part of something. And if you find that moment... It lasts forever.

Of course it doesn’t last forever. But it might just last until the next such moment. ( )
  Waldstein | Jan 19, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Boyle, DannyDirectorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hodge, JohnScreenwritermain authorall editionsconfirmed
DiCaprio, Leonardosecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Garland, AlexOriginal novelsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed

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