Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Movie Review: Dorian Gray (2009)

*The movie came out 2 years ago but this still is just too hot!
What should one do alone on a chilly rainy autumn afternoon in NYC? If one is feeling a bit daring, and wants a movie to match the dreary atmosphere, Dorian Gray (2009) directed by Oliver Parker is the perfect pastime, offering a refreshing blend of Gothic supernatural horror and Victorian melodrama. The sinister Belle Epoque London the movie was set in will be sure to make you feel quite fortunate, minus the quaint but dark background music. 

Dorian Gray, convincingly portrayed by Ben Barnes, is a young, handsome, naive, and gullible young man who arrives to London alone, with all his immediate family dead. He acquires two radically different friends, one a painter, Basil Howard (Ben Chaplin), who is semi-romantically attracted to his beauty, and another, a witty socialite, Lord Henry "Harry" Wotton (Colin Firth), who is attracted to his naivete. Basil is so attracted to his physical perfection that he makes Dorian his chief muse, and paints a picture of Dorian that is so real and beautiful that it unwittingly awakens the inner vanity of Dorian. Dorian first becomes aware of his beauty and fiercely wished to stay young forever and half seriously accepts Harry's joking suggestion that he makes a deal with the devil: his soul for eternal physical beauty. I easily imagine Basil as the virtuous, preaching "angel" on his right shoulder and Harry is the witty and absolutely incorrigible "devil" on his left shoulder. Of course, spoiler alert, Dorian Gray easily falls under the manipulative influence of Harry, who leads him to a hedonistic, decadent life with the sole purpose of seeking both amoral and moral pleasures and new sensations (aka he is Living the Life). Dorian also discovers that his portrait is magical. It bears the weight and effects of all the sins and pleasures Dorian commits, becoming uglier and monstrous while Dorian keeps his eternal beauty and never ages or scars. Dorian inherited a huge pile of cash so he doesn't have any financial problems, and does not work, like all gentleman living in his class, preferring to lavish money on exotic objects and experiences. This movie graphically chronicles his changing personality, the details of his hedonistic life, and his ultimate deadly remorse.

The horror aspect of it was mild, but delightfully chilly and pleasingly intellectual. It is mainly centered on a mixture of psychological and supernatural. Dorian is haunted by not a ghost, but a magical portrait, which serves as a mirror of his own soul. If Dorian chooses to be good and lead a virtuous life under Basil's influence, he would not be afraid of the portrait at all. However, Dorian's fear stems from his fateful choice of leading a life of unrestrained passion and decadence that causes the portrait to alter horribly into a monstrous, demon-like creature that sits in a dusty corner of his attic, exerting a growing unhealthy influence on him, first, to warn him of possible intruders to the attic room it was in, and later, to tell him to kill those who knew his secret, which furthers his path of self destruction.

I just want to clarify that Dorian Gray the movie directed by Oliver Parker and The Picture of Dorian Gray the novel written by Oscar Wilde are different and should not be confused with one another.The movie was never meant to follow the book down to every last word. Many movies and plays throughout the years before have done a better job of following the book word for word. Yes, the timespan stretches out too far. They cut out some minor characters. In the book, Dorian and Harry talked in Basil's garden, not some seedy bar. Harry never had a daughter because he divorced his wife. So what? The book was merely the inspiration, the foundation of which This Particular Movie was supposed to be based on. If it were supposed to be an exact reenactment, at least the screenwriter (Toby Finlay) would be smart enough to give it the same name as the book to indicate its connection. So a word to some critics out there who are against the movie because of the book. Its a movie, not a book. Make reviews based on how well the movie delivers, not how it matched up to the book. Give the screenwriter some credit for being creative! This makes the most sense because Parker gave very good film adaptations of Wilde's other plays, such as The Importance of Being Earnest <==must read and watch if you didn't. Absolutely the wittiest drama ever! 

Also, The Picture of Dorian Gray novel by Wilde was much more subtle in its references to sin, probably to evade Victorian censorship and stay in circulation. While I was reading it, I didn't even detect anything wrong with it that could not be put in even a children's book. Yet it was supposed to have scandalized Victorian society and used against Wilde in his fateful trail, as the introduction humourously referred to it seen as "a naked man at a tea party." Most of the sins Dorian commits are not written or just hinted at through allusions to disgraced and humiliated former friends, or a terrible secret written on a paper that the reader does not know. Some experts say that purposefully keeping the references vague forces us formulate our own definition of sin. However, its really hard for a  movie to do that, as a movie is purely visual and usually offers little room for imagination (that's why watching TV doesn't prevent Alzheimers, when reading books do). Dorian Gray the movie must clear through the fog of elaborate diction and "(un)dress it up a little" to suit the bold tastes of a twenty first century audience and it does so through beautiful cinematography. Just enough spice so it's sexy, not campy. And it dresses to impress.

So read the book, watch the movie, do both, take your pick. Just don't do neither without having a prejudiced mindset.

Rating: 9/10 

I did not give it a full score because the movie does go a bit fast. It could have gone through the relationships a bit deeper. For example, the relationship with Emily Wotton, Harry's daughter, was a bit shallow. The movie didn't really show how different she was from the other ladies that Dorian consorted with. Sure, she's from post WWI, more modern, and Harry's daughter (aka Off limits), but I don't see why they fell so deeply in love. She must have been based off Hetty Morton, but anyway, she's pretty, and Dorian likes pretty ;D

This is my first movie review ever, and also the first time I watched a horror movie. Why, because I am a proud wimp ;D Horror stories, not even movies, can scare me unpleasantly in two ways: 1) They are either too disturbingly gory that I remember them in nightmares OR 2) They are too psychologically scary and play with my mind too much so that I start actually believing in them. Yes, I'm a proud wimp. That's why I rarely step outside the bounds of romantic comedies in the first place.

However, this movie was an exception for many reasons.
Why I mustered my psychs to watch this:  
1) I read the novel which inspired this, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and it was not that scary, perhaps because of the antiquated diction. But anyways, it focused more on the psychological changes inside the main character rather than the horror of the portrait.
2) The novel which inspired this, The Picture of Dorian Gray was written by Oscar Wilde, my favorite author of ALL TIME! *Fangirl scream*
3) I rarely will finish watching a movie without a hot lead. And Ben Barnes does not disappoint ;-)
Halt. (British way of saying Hot but I'll stop ;D)
Mr. Barnes how do you look so fresh even though you are decomposing? 

Come and look, if you dare..... 

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