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American teenager Richard (DiCaprio) travels to Thailand where he comes into possession of a map that is supposed to lead to paradise.
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ďFor mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven't tried before.Ē This may or may not sum up the eternal search of generation Y. It sure gives us a notion of Richardís personality. It is the search for new experiences that leads him to Thailand. Gets him to drink snake blood. And lures him to the beach.
The idea of the beach is Shangri-laesque. It is supposedly more beautiful than any other beach and with water clearer and bluer than any other ocean. Surrounded and enclosed by mountains. Is it an urban legend? Is it paradise? Richard manages to talk a French couple into coming with him to find out. The road to the beach includes swimming several miles in open water. Trekking through jungle and a field of marijuana that is guarded by armed farmers. And finally a jump off a high altitude cliff.
Here they are greeted by the community, which is formed by people from all kind of nationalities. All of them share the wish to escape civilization and live in peace and harmony. The appearance of Richard and the French disrupts the peace momentarily. The drug-handling farmers have warned them about accepting more people. But since the newcomers now know about the location and the community there is no other way than to let them stay. Life is simple on the beach. Living in huts. Fishing, sports and linguistic games keep all of them busy and entertained.
Unfortunately the 2000 tsunami affected parts of the beautiful shooting locations. Both Ko Phi Phi Leh and Phuke, where most of the shots of the beach were taken, were hit by the wave.
Danny Boyleís first commercial success in Hollywood is not only an ode to Thailand it is also a statement against the commercializing of paradise islands. When Richard returns to Ko Pang Yang with one of the founders of the beach community (Swinton), to buy supplies, he realizes that he hasnít missed it at all. The drunk and loud tourists turn any paradise into hell. Richard discovers this now that he has gotten a little perspective on things. And he canít wait to get back to the calmness of the beach.
Boyle who earned his stripes with the cult movie Trainspotting (1996) has since won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire (2008). I recommend The Beach just as highly as I recommend those two. Itís a solid 4 out of 5, with beautiful cinematography, locations, great acting and an interesting story. Iím almost certain that Alex Garland, who wrote the novel the movie is based upon, agrees with me and is content with his workís transformation to the silver screen.