Monday Movie: The Beach
Ex Machina, which opens this weekend, marks the directorial debut of Alex Garland. He’s best known to us now as the screenwriter of such films as 28 Days Later… and Dredd but his first brush with Hollywood came when his 1996 novel The Beach was adapted by John Hodge into a Danny Boyle film starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Though not a success with critics or audiences, The Beach was an important event in the careers of both its director and its star. It was DiCaprio’s first starring role since Titanic (not counting The Man in the Iron Mask, which was filmed before Titanic‘s release) and the movie’s dark, R-rated events signaled the kind of path he hoped to forge with his newfound mega-fame. Consequently, his choice to work with Boyle represented a call up to the majors for the indie darling director of Trainspotting.
The Beach is a far better film than its reputation suggests. It it uncompromisingly harsh in its portrayal of the solipsism and entitlement of young Westerners. And it takes morbid pleasure in giving us a breathtakingly beautiful setting and then drenching it in blood and betrayal. Folks at the time objected to its sometimes discordant mixture of tones as well as its overall misanthropy. But for those willing to intensely dislike a lead character and to allow a film to occasionally kick them in the teeth, it’s a gripping experience.
Now, fifteen years later, we have Ex Machina. I won’t spoil the film except to say that it’s quite good and that Garland is still relaying the message that people will always fuck up a good thing, even if they built it in the first place.