A Book Review of The Beach by Alex Garland
The Essence of “The Beach”
I could review The Beach as a simple location piece, demonstrating the allure of Thailand as a travel destination, but that approach would ignore some very relevant topics. As I read and watched The Beach, I identified some relevant and interesting philosophies which pertain to us all. In fact, The Beach can be read and viewed as a flat-out warning to travel lovers and travel bloggers like us. Many of our followers and the people we follow love to talk about their zest for travel; how they were not satisfied with the routines and doldrums of the modern 9-5 work schedule. Some people strive to or have succeeded in breaking from that lifestyle and now believe that seeing the world and living for your own pleasure is the key to a fulfilling life. Richard, the main character in The Beach and portrayed by Leonardo Dicaprio, believes the very same thing.
Digging A Little Deeper…
The fancy term for this belief is hedonism, which basically means the pursuit of pleasure as a main goal. In The Beach, we meet Richard in Thailand. He seems like an avid, solo traveler, who is searching for adventure, intrigue and perhaps even a little danger. His desires are fully realized when he meets a person who assures him that true paradise does in fact exist. There is a hidden beach, occupied by a select few and fiercely protected as secret because of its astounding beauty. At first Richard thinks this is a myth, but as he delves deeper he realizes that such a place might actually exist.
The Book VS. The Film
There is a strong overlap between the book and the film. Both are great at demonstrating the key social commentary of the piece; young people can get turned off, bogged down and isolated from the rules and regulations of society as a whole. This leads them to search for self-realization and what makes them truly happy. This journey is a hedonistic one, since it is a break from the mundane or the painful and a quest for beauty and pleasure.
The crux of the story is to see what happens when this utopia is attempted. In the classic Lord of the Flies, William Golding showed us how power struggles and hierarchies are unavoidable, even when people have the best intentions to start. Alex Garland takes this one step further by making adults the operators of the utopia. The same inevitability is there, but when you throw in adult problems like sexual relationships, desire for secrecy and the struggle for individualism, a hedonistic utopia can quickly slide into a survivalist nightmare.
The Thirsty Tourist’s Thoughts…
I highly recommend reading this novel. The film adaptation is not a required companion piece, but it does help to visualize the characters and portray the beauty of the locations. The style of the book matches the hedonistic pursuit of its characters. The pace is deliberate and frantic, never slowing down to let you catch your breath. The movie takes some liberties with the story, relying more on Hollywood clichés like love triangles as opposed to a stronger reliance on the philosophy and social commentary offered by the book. The morals ring loud and clear in both portrayals, most overtly with the idea that a quest for pleasure can never be satisfied. First you want autonomy and freedom then beauty and love, but when you get them all you strive for something else you haven’t obtained yet. More beauty, more love, more autonomy…isolation? The Beach challenges you to be mindful of your desires. There may be a limit when selfishness comes full circle and leads you right back to suffering. When searching for the perfect adventure, we might come to accept that all we really want is a home.
Read It or Leave It?
READ IT! Preferably on a beach. If you are lucky enough, a beach in Thailand.
Like This? PIN IT!