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The Beach

More Than Leo

By Jacob Beniflah and Amy Meadows

Staff Writers

The quest for the perfect world drives some people to madness, some to obsession, and some to The Beach. In this utopian odyssey chronicling one young, macho American’s quest for adventure, elements of postmodern fantasy, horror, and love collide into a final sobering conclusion: that the closest thing to a perfect world may very well be our own.

Jacob Beniflah and Amy Meadows both reviewed the movie, coming to somewhat differing conclusions about the nature of the movie and its characters. The movie stars Leonardo Dicaprio as the backpacker Richard who, while backpacking in Thailand, is given a map to the mythical Beach.

Jacob Beniflah: Having read the book, I can say that this is a very poor adaptation of Alex Garland’s novel. While the essence of the movie is still there, the director took some artistic liberties by adding a love triangle and removing some character relationships. While a summary of the movie may make it seem like this is an adventure movie, it is not. The movie isn’t action-oriented. It isn’t a mystery whether or not Richard will ever find the beach. In fact, he finds it very soon after the movie starts. Everything truly begins when he arrives at the island and it focuses on his interactions with his new cohorts.

Amy Meadows: I thought that the basis of the movie, or at least the idea behind it, was fairly good, it just lacked elements that would make it truly spectacular. One of the major flaws of the movie was that instead of letting the action develop the themes -- alienation, thrill seeking, group mentality, etc. -- it tried to force them upon the audience. This was especially prevalent in the second half of the movie and its conclusion (“Utopias always fail, let’s go use iMacs!”).

Beniflah: Regardless of whether you like the movie or not, the setting is definitely visually stunning. Watching this movie while in the midst of my first real New England winter makes me crave escaping nasty problem sets for a warm paradise. The island and the city seemed exactly what you might picture from reading the book. The beach itself is beautiful, though not as stunning as all the lore surrounding it would make it seem. It is painful to remember that the filmmakers actually ruined the protected park to make it look so nice.

Meadows: Visually, I was most impressed with the cinematography in the first five minutes of the movie. If it had continued throughout the rest, the movie would have been on a completely different plane. The sleaze of the tourist-infested cities combined with the NYPD Blue type camera work was an impressive introduction to the rest of the movie. Further, the contrast of this sleaze to the pristine Beach commune and then to the violence of the jungles and marijuana fields was definitely a strong point of the movie. Still, the movie could have had fewer computer-generated atmosphere shots.

Beniflah: In this movie, it’s really hard to like any of the characters very much. The movie focuses more on developing the theme, thus few characters change besides Richard. He is frustrated and jealous in the first half, and then proceeds to lose his mind in the second. If you love “Titanic Leo,” get ready for a new, darker character. Francoise, played by Virgnie Ledoyen, is fickle and doesn’t seem to add much to each scene, minus her underwater love scene with Richard. Her jilted boyfriend, Etienne, almost drops out of the movie by its ending. All the actors in this movie do a decent job, including Leo. I don’t think his acting abilities or lack thereof were apparent in this film.

Meadows: Everyone’s favorite heartthrob, Leo definitely took on a much darker role. Unfortunately, even in his most demonic states, there were still major problems with the believability of his character. In fact, the first time he cursed in the movie I had to suppress laughter outright. His performance, at most points of the movie, was hard to believe precisely because he was trying so desperately hard to be taken seriously as an actor (which made me take him that much less seriously).

However, I feel that the reason that most of the other characters in the movie are static does not have to do with the theme so much as the film’s focus on Leo’s character, Richard. The supporting actors, as a whole, seem to do only that -- support the star -- and thus were devoid of the uniqueness that could have been developed if only the movie weren’t so focused on the main character. The only performance that I felt didn’t defer to Leo’s was that of Sal (Tilda Swinton), the leader of the commune.

Beniflah: Overall, this movie gets a “don’t see” rating from me. I will admit that reading the book first probably tainted my perception of the movie. A much better adaptation could have been made which would have appealed to a wider audience. The filmmakers were so concerned with marketability that they added too many unnecessary elements and removed some essential ones. The movie is mediocre, and it could have been great. Read the book, and catch the movie if you are bored one day.

Meadows: My impression right at the end of the movie was extremely unfavorable. I thought that the themes were watered down to the point of spoon-feeding the audience. However, upon reflection, most of the movie was not altogether that bad; meaning, it had its moments of insight and Leo had moments where I forgot that he was Leo. Given that, The Beach could have improved many of the individual components (such as the characters or the themes).