The Beach by Alex Garland portrays a form of tourism where it differentiates the authentic experiences of a traveller to a tourist. Danny Boyle’s(2000) adaptation depicts an American backpacker, Richard, who seeks to discover beyond the sightseeing of typical tourists. Upon following a series of unfortunate events on an island, the article examines how the film has shaped a diverse audience’s interpretation of cultural travel. The Tourist Gaze (2002) by John Urry reinforces Richard’s motivation to travel as “romantic” instead of the “collective” tourist. The article explores how the Beach embodies the Tourist Gaze in Thailand whilst studying its promotion/demotion on the various forms of tourism. The relationship between these texts also draws upon the works of film theorist, Giuliana Bruno (1997) who expresses the film’s spectatorship as a form of tourism and the interviews of workers and activist in Krabi Province.
The article established a connection between tourism and film by studying the connection between The Beach and the Tourist Gaze. The Beach supports Urry’s view of the more conventional tourist through Boyle’s use of spectatorship within the film along with its connection with imperial/colonial vision. This is accomplished through the incorporation of the tropics and the nature of ecoimperialism to encompass the Beach’s entanglement in the transculturation process. Bruno expresses a different perspective of the film as tourism practice through the representation of material landscape transformation involving actors to range from backpackers to environmental activist to further reinforce the topic of tourism. By examining these different texts in the topic of tourism, we have explored how the film’s capture of tropical images symbolises the processes of transculturation and how the Beach is a reproduction of tropical nature.
The Beach Summary
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The Beach (1996) by English novelist Alex Garland follows an optimistic and slightly delusional English tourist as he travels to Thailand seeking a Utopia. Garland’s first novel, The Beach was critically acclaimed for reflecting the aspirations and dreads of Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1983). Garland is also well known as a screenwriter and director; his 2015 movie Ex Machina was a major motion picture and nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars. The Beach was also adapted for film, with Leonard DiCaprio in the leading role.
The themes of The Beach include the dream of utopia, the dangers of authenticity, human selfishness, and the nefarious lengths humans will go to in order to survive.
The novel, told in the first person, opens to the protagonist, Richard, discussing how he found out about the beach on Ko Sanh Road while staying in a cheap hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. One day, his neighbor who went by the name Daffy, pinned a map to his door; the map led to a pristine seashore that showed no previous signs of human occupation; the beach is part of a National Park where tourists are not supposed to visit. The following day, Daffy was found dead, ostensibly killing himself.
Richard decides to follow the map that Daffy left for him. A French couple he had met at the hotel, Étienne and Françoise, join him. So as not to be caught going to the beach, Richard doesn’t tell the police about the map to the beach.
The trio find a fisherman who is willing to take them 1 km away from the beach; they will have to swim the rest of the way. They agree. While waiting for the fisherman, they meet an American couple, Zeph and Sammy, who later become instrumental in helping them.
Once they land on the island, it’s not as easy as they thought it would be to land on the pristine beach. They have to climb through rocky terrain then hide from a group of armed men guarding a horde of marijuana plants. They’re able to escape. At last, they meet a Jed, who promises to take them to the beach. He does.
All of his neighbors at the beach are similarly happy-go-lucky people from all over the world. There are about thirty in total; the colony was founded in 1989, six years before the main story of The Beach.
Everyone in the colony loves drugs. They’re each content with their assigned jobs. They all quickly settle into the calming rhythm of the beach and forget about the outside world. Richard develops a relationship with Françoise, with Étienne’s reluctant approval.
One day, Jed and Richard paddle to the nearby village of Joh Pha-Ngan to purchase rice. The voyage reminds Richard why the beach needs to be secluded from global consumer interests; if more people learned about the beach, the location would be ruined with a large number of tourists.
Still in Joh Pha-Ngan, Jed learns that Richard has talked to Zeph and Sammy about the secret beach, and is angry with him; he takes him off of his regular work and forces Richard to help him steal dope from the drug dealers.
Days pass, and Zeph, Sammy, and three other random people appear on a nearby beach. At the same time, three of the beach-dwellers are attacked by a shark and the entire community experiences food poisoning after consuming a poorly cooked squid.
Two other people, Christo and Karl, were injured by the shark and need medical attention. The group ultimately decides not to take Christo and Karl to a hospital to preserve their secret beach. But as luck would have it, Zeph, Sammy, and company, arrive on the colony’s side of the island. Sal, the attractive female cult-leader of the beach, tries to distract everyone from these calamities by holding a party to celebrate the one-year founding of the micro-colony.
In the meantime, Richard realizes that Daffy, who had had a falling out with the micro-colony, purposefully left the map with Richard so the colony would be ruined by the arrival of more and more tourists.
Richard watches as the Americans stumble upon the dope field and celebrate by tearing plants for their own use. Soon enough, the armed guards appear and beat them all to death. Meanwhile, Christo is dying in Jed’s arms, and Karl is delirious with a high fever.
Once the party starts, Sal hints that Richard should kill Karl for the sake of continued peace on the beach. He refuses. Richard seeks Karl out to warn him about Sal’s intention but discovers that Karl has seized the community’s boat to leave the island. Richard figures he needs to do the same pronto.
Richard tries to persuade Jed to leave the island, but Jed feels that he must stay to look after Christo. Richard knows that no matter what Jed does, Christo will die. Against his will, he kills Christo so that the others can escape the island safely.
Françoise, Jed, and Richard plan to leave the island while the others are high on dope. But unexpectedly, the drug guards appear with the bodies of the dead Americans, Zeph, Sammy, and their girlfriends. They dump them in front of the commune, and say no one in the commune can leave or receive any rations from the outside world. In a fit of madness, the micro-colony attacks and mutilates the American corpses.
The drug dealers also confront the micro-colony with the map that Richard drew, the same map that Richard claimed never existed. When the colony realizes that Richard was responsible for the map, they decide to kill him. He acquires a lot of wounds in the scrimmage.
Richard, along with Jed, Keaty, Étienne, and Françoise flee into the pitch-black forest. They all escape on the raft that the Americans left behind when they first landed on the beach.
As the novel closes, Richard is living in England, working a boring job, and grateful to be alive.