Monday, December 28, 2009

Dorian Gray

"Some things are more precious because they don't last."

The first word that comes to mind is 'sumptuous'. This movie just fills the screen with Victorian beauty. Every costume and set piece is amazing. The period detail is so overwhelming I felt I could almost smell 19th Century London. Everyone talks like they would or should. The language of London society is perfectly captured here. Everything said is dripping with layers of subtext.

The movie begins with a murder and the disposal of a body and that sense of foreboding hangs over every scene. Who is the person in the steamer trunk? What drove Dorian to kill that person? And what is so special about that damned painting?

The 'Picture of Dorian Grey' was the only novel written by Oscar Wilde and it is so far removed from his usual witty presentations that one would not suspect it came from his mind. Its a cautionary tale of the dangers of hanging on to youth too long and refusing the grace that comes with aging.

The terrible contradictions of life at that time required a man to repress his desires so that he could exist in 'proper' society. However, those desires still remained and to satisfy them would create feelings of dispare and self-loathing. That dichotomy gets fully aired in this movie through the character of Lord Henry, a nobleman and friend to Dorian. He instructs Dorian to embrace every sensation he can but doesn't tell him that such actions have consequences.

How Dorian trades his soul for eternal youth and beauty is not explored here but that is not the point. It's the high cost of selling one's soul that is important. You can never run from time or your actions. Your sins are trapped in moments like flies in a spider's web. And Dorian does have sins.

After meeting and romancing Sybil, an actress, Dorian begins a slow decline into debauchery and hedonism. She is the last pure and beautiful thing he knows before totally falling into the hell that Lord Henry has laid before him. It's when he rejects her love for him that the painting begins to take on his sins while leaving the young man untouched by time or consequence. Thus freed, Dorian can explore all his base desires.

As the world ages around him, Dorian remains youthful but becomes more tormented by the horror that his life has become. You feel how out of place he is. This was not a gift visited upon him. It was a curse and a perfect representation of the old adage - 'be careful what you wish for'.

It's a remarkable Gothic story and one that I enjoyed falling into. The cast was pitch perfect especially Ben Barnes as Dorian and Colin Firth as Lord Henry.

I was haunted by the thought of having the entire series of paintings showing Dorian's decline that they must have had to created for this movie. If I was Ben Barnes I wonder if I would want to have them once the movie wrapped. Imagine them hanging on the wall next to a large staircase leading to the second floor. Weird but hypnotic.


Wings1295 said...

Interesting. Had no clue they were doing another take on this one.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

There is no reason why this movie or 'Franklyn' didn't get a larger release and went direct to video. They are terrific, well acted and gorgeous looking pictures and there is an audience for quality out there.