Thursday, September 30, 2010


It goes without saying that sometimes America can be pretty dumb. I mean, how else do you account for the success of shows like Two and a Half Men, or the existence of Sarah Palin? Sometimes the numbers just don't add up. Another prime example? The fact that 2009's Dorian Gray was denied a US theatrical release, and dumped to DVD and Blu-ray.

Granted, the name 'Oscar Wilde' has yet to become a staple at multiplexes. But in this instance, stateside audiences really missed out on what I imagine would have been a thoroughly engaging movie-going experience. It's true that Ben Barnes - the actor who portrays the titular character - is overwhelmingly beautiful. Clothed, doesn't much matter. But it's not just good casting visually. There's something incredibly persuasive to his performance as Dorian Gray, and it's almost...hypnotic.

Director Oliver Parker's interpretation of Wilde's classic novel "The Picture of Dorian Gray" is dark to its core, and in my opinion this is precisely why the film succeeds. If by chance you're not a homosexual or familiar with Oscar Wilde's work, I'll let Netflix summarize for you:

"When London artist Basil Hallward paints a portrait of the young and beautiful Dorian Gray, the subject is so taken with his own image that he declares he'd do anything to keep his looks - even if it means selling his soul. The plot thickens when his wish is granted, but even the painting can't mask the true nature of Dorian's inner beauty."

At many turns disturbing and wicked, we see the corruption of Dorian by Lord Henry (Colin Firth, with distracting facial hair...but you get used to it) into a world of excess and decadence. Booze, drugs, hookers, orgies - everything's on the table. And when Dorian realizes the painting "absorbs" his sins, there's nothing he won't do. It's an exquisite look into a basic question of humanity: What would you do if you knew there were no consequences? Dorian's answer is rather simple - anything and everyone.

And yes, I do mean everyone. While in the source material gayness was more of an implication, here Dorian makes no qualms about quenching his sexual thirst with men as well as women. Not to mention playing some Cruel Intentions-esque sex games with a mother and daughter that would make even Sarah Michelle Gellar a little uncomfortable. He may be out of control, but who cares? He. Looks. PERFECT.

As you'd expect, redemption isn't so simple. Dorian has to dig through a lot of dirty deeds to find his humanity, and love does not come easily to those who have basically screwed/screwed over everyone he knows. But did I still want him to succeed? Of course I did. So even more praise to Ben Barnes for that accomplishment, as well.

When I found myself still thinking about this movie the next day, I realized just how much I enjoyed it. It's an incredibly well-shot, well-acted adaptation of Oscar Wilde's work, and it definitely managed to creep me out a few times as well. While it's a shame that most Americans were never given the option to see it on the big screen, it's good to know that we have services like Netflix. Add it to your queue, and see for yourself that Dorian Gray is a distinguished, erotic horror show. Highly recommended!


Rob said...

"distracting facial hair"

YES. I thought about it CONSTANTLY. Colin Firth's chin pubes.

But yes, good movie!!!

Alison said...

Oh, Ben Barnes. I've never heard of him before, but RAWR! I'll be keeping an eye out for this movie. And I'm pretty sure I would have seen it in theaters if it did come here. Boo.