The Beach (2000), written by John Hodge, is often a forgotten footnote on Leo DiCaprio’s list of blockbusters.
- Draft Read: 15th June 1998
- Type: Spec
- Page Count: 105
- Reading Speed: Medium
- Setting(s): Thailand
- Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning multiple months
- Genre(s): Adventure
- Theme(s): Love, Death, Murder, Search for meaning, Coming-of-Age
- Protagonist Change: Minimal
Man o man, what a weird script. Let’s back up a little bit: I consider The Beach an underrated movie. Sure, you have some bad CGI shark attacks, but the movie has a young Leo searching for the meaning of life in Thailand and Moby’s “Porcelain” song. Okay, All Saints also have a song in there too, which probably doesn’t do it for the guys, but there’s lots of pot smoking and just having a good time.
But holy heck the screenplay is a disjointed, and even though I’ve only read 30ish features in full, it’s problems are obvious. The fundamental issue is in the book, from which the movie is adapted, is 439 pages long. So I presume the screenwriting team needed to cut a lot out. Well, they should have anyways. What we end up with is an episodic collection of subplots with unclear themes and mixed messages.
A secret island in rural Thailand sounds like a cool backdrop for a story, and by and large, it is. So is actually discovering the island, meeting the people already there, and getting caught up in the paradise lifestyle. Then there’s the negatives, such as love, which always seems to get in the way (It’s also the Achilles heel for the protagonist in The Kings of Summer (2013), another adventure film made for younger audiences), and the cannabis farmers, who obviously hate the island guests but for some reason allow them to remain.
But the plot takes a while to get semi-going (it never really does) and in reality, there is no plot, just a bunch of loosely connected incidents where hippie tourists deal with personal drama. The screenplay reads dangerously close to a transcription of a reality T.V. show filmed on a remote island.
Richard is the protagonist and is where the script falls short. He’s unlikeable, and I have no interest in his frequent voiceovers where he shares his perspective. In fact, he does basically everything wrong. A short list:
- Goes after another man’s girlfriend
- Sleeps with another man’s partner
- Lies about killing an aggressive shark
- Clowns around with the machine-gun-wielding farmers
- Lets four newcomers to the island get killed
- Kills a man wounded in a shark attack
So if Richard is a narcissist at best and evil at worse, who is the good guy? None of the characters are good. In fact, not one throughout the entire screenplay comes off as likable. One or two, such as Étienne, are neutral, but it’s only their ignorance that keeps them in that category.
Dialogue & Pacing
The dialogue was interesting. The frequent voice-overs by Richard, while somewhat annoying, did a good job of replacing what I presume would have been pages of dialogue, and kept the story moving.
As noted above, the plot wasn’t there, so the pacing didn’t really work. Sure, we had a bunch of different environments and scenes, but it’s never really clear what they are moving toward until the climax; ending in a knife fight in which one of the few neutral characters is killed. Note: the movie changes the ending, making it more upbeat.
This screenplay still resonates with me. And if you look at the YouTube comments on a video of the ending, I’m not alone. Why is it impactful? A lot of people are searching for meaning in life, and Richard’s perspective is unique, albeit cautionary. There are other movies that have similar vibes, such as The Kings of Summer (mentioned above) and Midnight Cowboy (1969). Coming of Age and Adventure are two genres that seem to work particularly well together.
Best Part of The Script
The voiceovers are hit-or-miss, but you could probably just read them and understand most of the story. Here’s one on Page 41:
That’s right. I had an aptitude, a hidden talent. All these years I’m good for nothing. Turns out I’m a full-on old fashioned hunter fucking gatherer.”
If only we had learned a little bit more about Richard’s past, perhaps we could have better understood his actions!