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BEACH, THE

What makes The Beach a fascinating story - and a vivid, memorable film - is its valid observation about human nature. LEONARDO DICAPRIO and director DANNY BOYLE talk about the issues that inspired them to make the film.

DiCaprio had been waiting almost a year for a suitable follow-up to Titanic. "I wanted my next film to be something I felt strongly about, and The Beach and the character of Richard were the first things I felt some kind of connection with. Because Richard has been saturated with digital information, he’s never had any need to feel real emotion," he says of the central character. "So he sets off on a journey to Thailand to find something real in life. Richard’s constantly looking for a much deeper sensation."

"something different"

At a cheap hotel in Bangkok, Richard meets a French couple, Etienne (Guillaume Canet) and Francoise (Virginie Ledoyen). He also encounters Daffy (Robert Carlyle), an older traveller ravaged by years of sun and drugs. Rambling and paranoid, Daffy tells Richard the improbable tale of a secret island, a paradise on earth: the perfect beach, unsullied by tourists. The next day, Richard finds a piece of paper pinned to his door. It is a hand-drawn map of the island described by Daffy. This, Richard realises, may be the "something different" he has been looking for. He goes to find Daffy only to discover his corpse, the crazed man’s wrists slit by his own hand.

Richard persuades Francoise and Etienne to join him and they set off on a journey, following Daffy’s map. To get to this magical beach they must risk their lives by swimming across an open sea from one island to another, crawling past armed guards and jumping from the top of a 120-foot waterfall. Reaching their destination, they find a small community of travellers like themselves, living in secret. They are welcomed into the group, and the island paradise becomes their home, sapping them of all will to return to the world they knew before.

Yet beneath the surface, this heaven on earth is less than perfect. Personal conflict and petty jealousy ferment to create a violent rivalry, and a series of tragic events fragments the community. Increasingly isolated and disturbed, Richard finds himself more than witness to an incident of bloodshed. The dream has become a nightmare; paradise has turned to hell. Now his only goal is to leave. But escape will not be easy, for the beach is a secret place, a secret that some will defend to the death.

"intensely imagined tale"

When Alex Garland’s novel The Beach was published in 1996 it garnered impressive reviews. The New York Times Book Review called it "absorbing" and "a genuine page turner." Booklist said it was an "intensely imagined tale ... a wholly original and unsettling depiction of psyches shaped by the bewildering messages of Loony Tunes, Apocalypse Now, Nintendo and the age-old cult of oblivion."

But it was a friend’s recommendation that grabbed Danny Boyle’s interest. "I was mesmerized by my friend’s description of the island and its secret community," recalls the director of Trainspotting and Shallow Grave.

The story’s examination of the notion of paradise was another draw. "Searching for paradise is ingrained in many of our psyches," notes Boyle. "But the problem with paradise is that it’s exclusive by nature. The characters who live at what they think is paradise – the beach – don’t want anyone else coming and spoiling the land. They want it to remain exclusive. And inevitably when they are threatened by new arrivals, they’ll do anything, even resort to violence, to protect paradise; that’s one of the ironies of the story."

Producer Andrew Macdonald and writer John Hodge shared Boyle’s enthusiasm for the novel. Says Macdonald: "We were looking for a project that had a truly international feel to it and Garland’s book fit this criteria perfectly." Adds Hodge: "The novel had an enticing premise and an engagingly troubled and complex hero who finds himself in circumstances that reveal his moral uncertainty.

"the devil makes work for idle hands,"

"The story can almost be summarised as ‘the devil makes work for idle hands,’" Hodge continues. "There isn’t enough to do there. There’s a lack of moral fixtures, which leads to all sorts of unpleasantness." Boyle and Macdonald approached Garland to secure the rights to the book. "Lucky for us, Alex was a big fan of Danny’s directing and John’s adaptation of Trainspotting," explains Macdonald.

Boyle and Macdonald went to New York to meet with Leonardo DiCaprio. After reading the script aloud with Boyle and Macdonald, it was obvious DiCaprio would make the perfect Richard. "Leo is an amazing actor, fresh, original and bursting with ideas," says Boyle. "His taste, though he would vehemently deny this, is quite European, so the idea of playing an extremely flawed hero appealed to him. Richard himself becomes a secret, a mystery: He cuts himself off from home and eventually even the island community, becoming totally self reliant – an extreme form of the Beach itself – separating himself from humanity with all its imperfections."

"pleasurable and challenging"

Danny Boyle adds that he hopes audiences take away two kinds of experiences from The Beach. "The first half of the film is a deeply pleasurable, romantic, sensual journey of what many of us crave for – paradise. The second half explores some of the moral complexities and contradictions that surround the concept of paradise. So I hope that people will find the film both a pleasurable and challenging experience."

March, 2000

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