If I had to choose a movie to sum up our, Generation X, search for meaning and struggle for survival in this world it’s The Beach. I consider myself a mix between the X and millennials, taking the worst from both worlds if I might not so jokingly add. Based on a novel written by now very famous Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Ex Machina, Dredd, Sunshine), I vaguely remember watching it a couple of years after its release and finding it pretty boring. After twenty years I thought enough time has passed and I decided to give it a second chance. Mostly because I loved Ex Machina so much and to get even more familiar with now super-famous Thai escapism. Alex wrote the book based on his own experiences, making The Beach very authentic and engaging.
You can feel that almost all of these events have happened or could have happened at some point in time. Directed by Danny Boyle and adapted from Alex’s book by John Hodge, who also wrote the screenplay for Trainspotting, The Beach has that rebel and nihilist spirit that made the above-mentioned movie so famous. Not to mention huge quantities of marijuana. So huge that they will make any connoisseur of this fascinating plant chart an immediate course for Thailand. This trio works often together and they created some really cool movies. While on this subject, yes, Ewan McGregor was Danny Boyle’s first choice to play the part of Richard. However, thanks to the studio’s wishes, Leonardo DiCaprio was cast as a lead. All this after the huge success of Titanic in 1997 and his two-year hiatus from acting.
Richard is a young guy seeking adventure in the bustling city of Bangkok, Thailand. He is willing to try and do anything, filled with wanderlust and not too concerned with consequences. One fateful night, while he was staying in a run-down hostel, he met Daffy. Daffy is an eccentric fellow traveler who, after sharing a joint with him, tells him that he’s been to this magical beach. It’s located somewhere in the Gulf of Thailand, and it transformed him exactly in a way Richard is looking for. So the journey to find it begins.
Set on the exotic island of Ko Phi Phi Leh, The Beach looks just the way it is supposed to. To be more precise it looks almost too beautiful to be true. Amazing beaches, untouched and lush nature along with pretty and young bodies give off a sense of Pura Vida. This Costa Rican saying means simple or pure life, a life filled with enjoyment. This hedonistic lifestyle and escape from the busy world of useless responsibilities may seem attractive, but there’s always a but. The Beach tries too hard to tell that story of the search for meaning and better life. It does it in a clumsy way featuring a couple of sharp and unreasonable turns. Sure, it provides the template for your average traveler with all the familiar quotes.
You know the ones I’m talking about like life begins outside your comfort zone. Or how about an actual quote from the movie: never refuse an invitation. Behind all this hides the ugly and simplistic truth of real life. The truth we have been running away and resisting all this time. And I did the same thing, just to be clear, complete with drugs and alcohol. Girls were harder to get, to be honest. And what we resist, persists.
It feels like behind all the beautiful elements, enjoyment and pseudo-philosophy hides a huge emptiness. Or perhaps I’m just too much of a cynic to go along with these vibes. The Beach feels like a movie for your early twenties and if you see it past that age, it can come off as a bit pretentious. All this made it just an average movie with a strange vibe. That strange vibe kept it alive all these years.
Even Alex himself noted that this might not have been his best novel and its huge popularity shed a lot of light on something that was actually his own search for meaning (at least in my humble opinion). There’s no difference between the subject of The Beach and the very movie. It’s like the strong emotions from the movie seeped into the real world as they were making it and profoundly influenced everything about it. Since it’s an eye-candy and it has these interesting elements, The Beach is a movie you should check out. Especially now after Thailand has become so popular. Even I know quite a few people who went to this magical place drawn by beautiful landscapes and cheap accommodations. Who knows maybe you end up there and find your own magical beach.
Director: Danny Boyle
Writers: John Hodge, Alex Garland
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet, Robert Carlyle, Tilda Swinton, Peter Youngblood Hills
Fun Facts: The actual beach is not totally surrounded and enclosed by mountains, hiding it from the sea. In fact, there is a large gap between two gigantic boulders, and the films editors superimposed a fake mountain in post-production.