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."
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.
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,"
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
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."