I remember first watching The Beach when I was thirteen years old, and it has stuck with me ever since. The film, set in Thailand, documents Richard’s adventure – the protagonist played by Leonardo DiCaprio – of finding a paradisal beach hidden by the sea. Although now, aged twenty, I wouldn’t regard it as the best film I’ve ever watched. However, I will always be thankful for how it posited me into another world whenever I would put the disc into the DVD player in my living room. And most importantly, I owe it another thank you for still giving me a sense of wanderlust after all these years.
At this point in my life, the only beaches I had seen were those at Southend and Clacton. Both good beaches, but the 2p machines in the arcades offering lack-lustre prizes and the spilled ice-cream on the tarmac paths never quite spelled out tropical paradise. Although, I knew at the time not to keep ‘banging on’ – as my mum would say – about how I will go to loads of exotic places when I got older. After all, stuff like that only happens in the movies.
The way DiCaprio recited it and how Danny Boyle directed the scene had a way of leaving younger me inspired – and it still does now, seven years later
The beginning of the film always gave me goose-bumps. I even recall memorising it and reciting it to my best friend on the way to school, thinking it was the best thing ever. Knowing her, as she is still my close friend today, she probably said something along the lines of ‘what on earth are you on about’ and changed the subject. It was essentially a monologue by Richard, describing his plane journey to Bangkok and his first experience of walking through a bustling market street in Ko Pha Ngan on his way to a hotel. The way DiCaprio recited it and how Danny Boyle directed the scene had a way of leaving younger me inspired – and it still does now, seven years later.
I almost felt like I had proved to my thirteen-year-old self that I can go to these places and they are as incredible as the films tell you
When I left Europe for the first time this summer on a trip to Beijing, during the plane journey there, I remembered one quote from the film after not having watched it for years. It was Richard advising travellers to “just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it.” I had this piece of advice follow me throughout my trip and I came home not only wanting to go somewhere else, but feeling relieved. I almost felt like I had proved to my thirteen-year-old self that I can go to these places and they are as incredible as the films tell you. I almost wanted to go back in time and reassure my younger self that I will get to see these places and I do not just have to imagine them.
It is important to note how the sequence of the film transitions, from desperately desiring the pure shores and untrodden sand of this forbidden beach to, by the end, reality proving that even a tropical oasis is corruptible. Richard reflected on this towards the end of the film saying how he still believes in paradise, but how it’s not a place you can look for, rather “it’s how you feel for a moment in your life when you’re a part of something. And if you find that moment… It lasts forever.”
The film might have only been a place for me to escape when I was younger, but now this film has taken on a whole new layer of meaning
On the flight back to Heathrow after 16 days in Beijing, I also reflected on this and realised Beijing would not have been as memorable without the wonderful people I met and the memories I created with them. I came back feeling that I would always share that part of my life with everyone I met on that trip, no matter where we all end up in life.
The film might have only been a place for me to escape when I was younger, but now this film has taken on a whole new layer of meaning. It has taught me that it does not matter where you go; it’s about who you’re with and what you’re doing. If you travel with this in mind, you can never go wrong.