Thursday, 24 September 2009

Dorian Gray

I went to see the turgid, unmitigated disaster of a movie that was Dorian Gray on Sunday, and it's taken until now for me to feel sufficiently in possession of my credulity to compose an entry about it. I know, you may be (logically) wondering why I keep discussing films in a blog supposedly devoted to my writing career. Firstly, I have two degrees in film and it's a great passion of mine, and secondly, I believe that film faces the same technical problems as writing, in terms of pacing, structure, dialogue etc.

Now, Dorian Gray is somewhat unsurprisingly based on the genius work by Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray. The original novel is an absolute delight, whereas the movie is a lacklustre blight on the face of the film industry. I'm often somewhat skeptical of adaptations, as few of them manage to retain the subtle subtexts and wide-reaching nuances of the original source, and I should have guessed by the trailer that the makers of this limp movie would have managed to strip everything out bar the basic plot, and refuse to replace it with anything that might go over the heads of the target teenage audience.

The novel is a meditation on the nature of immortality, of truth versus beauty, of the strength of morality and conscience when faced with the temptations of debauchery, but the film chooses to dispense with these to promote the message, "Wouldn't it be fun if you could do what you want?" Responsibility and principles are jettisoned for a selfish gratification of the ego. It's hardly unsurprising in our youth-obsessed times, when people inject botulism into themselves in an attempt to stave off the ageing process, that the film places heavy emphasis on the value and virtue of youth. It ties in nicely with that other cinematic debacle, Twilight, in which vampires stay forever young and beautiful.

It's simply a bad, bad film. The costumes seem somewhat wrong, and I cannot quite understand why the stylist decided to give Sibyl long red hair, when such an appearance in Victorian art would denote the woman as a prostitute, or 'fallen woman'. Victorian art was extremely preoccupied with the idea of the 'angel of the hearth', of the quiet, obedient wife who would run the household for her husband without complaint. Naturally this image appealed to the highly repressed Victorian consciousness, yet man was still drawn to her sinful sister, the harlot. This scarlet-haired temptress allowed men to be experienced before marriage, and represented those who had fallen from grace and would usually end up falling off a bridge into the murky waters of the Thames. Indeed, this is the same fate that befalls Sibyl, despite the fact that she is intended to be a shining beacon of virtue and innocence in Dorian's increasingly dark world.

Part of me wonders that Sibyl's hair is inspired by the fact that when Dorian first sees her, she is playing Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet, although her appearance owes more to Ophelia in John Everett Millais' painting of the same name. Ophelia drowns herself, and Shakespeare hints that she does so as she is pregnant, and it's an eerie echo of the situation in which young Sibyl finds herself. I can understand the inclusion on the part of Mr Wilde, as he was clearly a genius, but I can't help feeling that any similarities featured by the filmmakers are completely accidental.

It is almost upsetting how easily the filmmakers tore the witty heart out of the novel, to replace it with a glossy absence of substance. Dorian's supposed debauchery seems tame compared to the goings on of most soap characters, and when we finally see the painting of Dorian in the final act, it looks more like Vigo from Ghostbusters II than a damning indictment of the havoc wrought upon a misguided man's soul. Where the book revealed the price to be paid for man's folly, the movie turns Dorian into a reckless pretty boy seemingly devoid of personality or charisma. Maybe if the filmmakers had taken a leaf from the diabolically bad League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and cast Stuart Townsend as Dorian (the only good thing about LOEG), then the film might have been saved. Otherwise, it's just a poor adaptation of an amazing book.

Buy the novel; ignore the movie.

1 comments:

hearwritenow said...

I think I'll take your advice and avoid this one. I love the novel. I hopped online to see who was in this: Ben Barnes as Dorian! They have got to be kidding!

- elle from hearwritenow

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