Danny Boyle is one of the most successful British directors alive, with a resume that includes Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting, and Steve Jobs. But every great director has a film they’re not particularly proud of. For Danny Boyle, one might say it’s his film The Beach, which was not only a financial disappointment but also Boyle’s most critically panned work.
What is The Beach about?
Movie Mistakes details the plot of The Beach as follows: “Richard (Leo Dicaprio) is on vacation in Thailand, and meets up with some guys who talk to him about some legendary island paradise that exists in Thailand. Figuring the place doesn’t even exist Richard makes nothing of it until he meets a man named Daffy in his hotel room. It turns out Daffy is from the secret island and gives Richard a map to it.” The film, released in 2000 and directed by Danny Boyle, was adapted from the novel of the same name by writer Alex Garland. So far, a pretty solid plot that, given the directorial prowess of Danny Boyle and the acting range of Leonardo DiCaprio, promises a thrilling film that’s designed to keep viewers at the edge of their seats. Instead, the opposite happened: the movie only made modest earnings at the box office and Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for a Razzie award for worst actor. It’s a movie that barely gets cited when talking about the past works of Danny Boyle, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Tilda Swinton. What happened?
Why The Beach was problematic?
The Beach was released in 2000, when Boyle was at the height of his professional powers. But The Beach was a project that he should have taken on much later in his career. At the time, Boyle’s other films were highly successful and had awards nominations and wins to show for it. The movie currently holds a pitiful 20 percent rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, making it Boyle’s worst-rated film on the site. Roger Ebert said it best when he reviewed the movie during its premiere, describing the movie as “confused” and, essentially, directionless. “Watching “The Beach” is like experiencing a script conference where only sequences are discussed–never the whole film. What is it about, anyway? There are the elements here for a romantic triangle, for a man-against-the-jungle drama, for a microcosm-of-civilization parable or for a cautionary lesson about trying to be innocent in a cruel world. The little society ruled over by Sal is a benevolent dictatorship–you can be happy as long as you follow the rules–and that’s material for satire or insight, I guess, although the movie offers none.” Lisa Alspector of the Chicago Reader said that the movie tried to be too many things all at once, writing: “Three travelers are determined not to be mere tourists in a narrative (2000) that tries to juggle thriller elements, tons of pop culture imagery, and way too much philosophical baggage.”
Slovak Spectator‘s opinions on the movie are much harsher, characterizing the figures as bland and undeveloped. “The film is full of holes, the largest of which being that the characters are developed to the consistency of runny oatmeal. As the movie jumps from scene to scene, little insight is given into the characters’ personalities, most importantly Richard (DiCaprio).” The site also harshly panned the plot, describing it as jumping aimlessly without proper resolution: “The plot also does little to save this film, as the movie jumps from situation to situation so quickly (again, with Richard’s narratives expected to bridge the gaps) that the resulting story-line comes off as concocted and superficial, not to mention sporadic. The lack of story is evidenced by the tell-tale signs of any sub-par film, where overdone sound effects and overdramatised music attempt to enhance its lack of suspense. Really, how much noise can thrusting open a door really make? In The Beach, you’d think an atomic bomb had gone off in the theatre.”
The Beach was also notable for being filmed in Thailand, which would later become a popular filming location for Hollywood. It did leave behind some controversy, as the beach where the movie was shot was damaged. The alterations to the island to make it look more “paradise-looking” caused considerable damage. Thai officials were also displeased with how Thailand was portrayed in the movie, with some denouncing the appearance of a Buddha statue in a bar as “blasphemous.” Calls for it to be banned in the country have also been pushed forward during the time.
But 20 years later, The Beach has found new fans
For all the movie’s faults, The Beach actually had its moments, especially when you view it from the perspective of a watcher from 2022. People seem to have a newfound appreciation for The Beach. Vice‘s Bettina Makalintal, for example, wrote that the movie was able to predict the “worst of influencer culture.” Makalintal wrote: “But The Beach‘s message has picked up new resonance in the age of influencer culture. The controversy around The Beach and its local environmental effects only served to foreshadow a common theme in the news today; not only did the film depict the corruption of a little-known Thai paradise, but it also led to the real-life destruction of the beach where it was filmed, and over the past few years, as content-hunters and “digital nomads” have taken over our feeds, a similar situation has played out globally in destinations that were once unspoiled. Through the lens of 2020, DiCaprio’s Richard is just another influencer in Thailand, living with little regard for the lives of locals and wreaking havoc on remote locations as he takes in experiences for the sake of aspirational “adventure.” Back when The Beach was set, he just didn’t have a cell phone to blast his every move for likes and clout.” Even Rotten Tomatoes has admitted in an editorial that they may have made a mistake in its judgment of The Beach. While the movie is still currently and consistently ranked as Danny Boyle’s worst work, perhaps it’s high time to give The Beach a second look. We might find new appreciation for the movie if we rewatched it today.Tilda Swinton
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