The movie in five words: Too much beauty is dangerous.
This film had been the last amongst the string of films my girlfriends and I saw during our extensive sleepovers/couchpotato-fest last December and oh boy, what an awkward experience! Haha. We’ve gone from mild swooning, to shock-fuelled shrieking, to breathless pausing and rewinding, to hugging the walls, nearly wrecking the screen and jumping like crazy all over the place. Oh Ben Barnes, why?
Needless to say, the movie’s got knockout production design, eyecandy visuals and a hotter-than-life lead actor for bait—we were automatically sold, banking solely on those factors (Please pardon our occasional shallowness, thank you.) and we’re glad the movie dug deeper than that: Dorian Gray, a remake of the controversial 1945 film A picture of Dorian Gray based on Oscar Wilde’s novel of the same name, so vividly encapsulated themes of vanity, corruption, lust and greed into one life-sized exposition: the tale of an innocent, charming lad’s misguided voyage towards the edge of himself; and of the hell-bent fact of life that loving someone way too much is always with a price—especially when that someone is your very own self.
Welcome to 19th Century London, without a doubt the best time and place for women to be strutting their fashionable corsets and fluffy hats as they engage in endless cajoling on tea and wine parties with equally elegantly-dressed bachelors in tuxes. (I admit: I have a penchant for period films, thanks in part to my fascination with whimsy Victorian-related stuff.) This is the society that overwhelmed the then-naïve sixteen-year old Dorian Gray, who was wide-eyed with all the sudden grandeur enshrouding him. In my opinion, the newness of everything in his eyes was an effective mirror of his originally untainted view of the world. For instance, we see him here, nervously fidgeting and self-conscious on his very first gala party, his mouth agape despite his awkward self.
And then jumping a couple of years later, we see a jaded version of him, after all the tragic events that circumnavigated his naivety to absolute cynicism. His face, despite having preserved his gorgeous features, no longer radiated the innocence he once had. I love how the premise has a gothic feel to it, and although the movie started with a midlife flashback and we knew very well that Dorian Gray will be corrupted towards the end, it’s still intriguing to see what really happened to him before he reached the eventual brink.
The film’s tag line reads: Forever Young. Forever Cursed. I’ve read a lot of reviews emphasizing on comparisons between the 1945 version and this remake, and although I haven’t seen the original one, I think this 2009 version isn’t too bad to be a disappointment. It’s noticeable how the movie dropped the words A picture of, hence only the name Dorian Gray for the title. According to Ben Barnes himself, it’s because instead of the portrait being the focal point of the story, like how it was with the original version, this remake dwelt more on Dorian Gray, the actual person, his vulnerability in making choices, his heartbreaks and what went wrong with his life. I think it’s an interesting perspective, and it worked.
A closer look to it would reveal that although the story is ultimately about Dorian, the big picture would otherwise say that it’s actually about three men: Dorian metaphorically standing in the middle of two significant people who influences him more than he is aware of; two men who I perceived to be symbols of good and evil, with Dorian being their experimental battlefield. There’s Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin), the upright painter who’s responsible for Dorian Gray’s wonderful portrait, and Lord Henry Wotton (Colin Firth), Dorian’s personal guru for Societal Know-How’s, hedonistic pleasures notwithstanding.
It’s no surprise that Colin Firth blends seamlessly in his character with just about the right amount of macabre and wit. He spews bits and pieces of dark knowledge to Dorian with such a straight face; it’s hard to contain myself from wanting to give him a good slap. Quoting him: “Conscience: It’s just a polite word for Cowardice. No civilized man regrets a pleasure…People die of common sense, Dorian, one lost moment at a time. Life is a moment. There is no hereafter. So make it burn always with the hardest flame.” Talk about sugar-coating the suggestion to raise a little hell, eh?
I loved the sinister dynamic between Colin Firth and Ben Barnes. Lord Henry Wotton’s character was so insistent, so manipulative, as opposed to Dorian Gray’s weakness and vulnerability. There’s too much trust and there’s too much betrayal. It’s like the melodramatic version of Frankenstein and his creator. Quoting Dorian this time, towards the end: “I am what you made me! I lived the life that you preached… but never dared practice. I am everything that you were too afraid to be!” Spot on, Dorian, finally.
The affairs of the heart, are of course, not to be overlooked. It is, after all, what lit the fire and what hushed everything to ashes. We have Dorian’s first love (and first heartbreak), Sybil Vane, a young budding actress, who was just as trusting as Dorian originally was. It is because of this shared weakness that they weren’t qualified for a happy-ever-after, methinks.
And then there’s Emily Wotton, Lord Henry’s daughter and nature’s way of bringing the Karma on: she’s sassy, smart, opinionated and optimistic about life—totally Dorian Gray’s opposite. He’s smitten, of course, and I feel like singing ‘what goes around, comes around’ in Lord Henry Wotton’s sorry face.
This post will not be complete without me professing my utter love for Ben Barnes, which perfectly owned the role with his brilliant range of emotions. That lovely face! Yes, perhaps this review is just an excuse to post gazillion pictures of him, because he did oh-so-well in making me believe how angel-like he was and how demonic he could be in a matter of two hours. He’s hot in both personas, so whatever.
I always have a soft spot for tortured characters, especially when their complexities come in layers. Dorian Gray, with its chilling storytelling, painted a believable tale that frightened and saddened me genuinely. Too much beauty, as I’ve stated earlier, is dangerous, because it blinds our ambitions and fools us into believing that all things sparkly are good and without blemish.
In the end, everything still comes down to the portrait, because the story has so much semblance to Dorian Gray’s fate: It’s beautiful but it’s rotten, It’s charming and horrifying, and more than anything else—it is timeless, and will always be there as a painful memory that will inhibit the spectator’s mind, long after the credits finished rolling.
Dear Girlfriends: Don’t cha miss our lazy days? Because I do!