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Literature / The Beach

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The Beach is the first novel of British author Alex Garland, published in 1996.

Richard is a tourist who is bored with the lack of adventure in all the exotic countries where he tries to find it. He and two friends come into possession of a map. They discover a beautiful island beach where a small populace lives in secret. However, paradise never works; it isn't long before everything comes to a horrific climax.

Made into a film by Danny Boyle in 2000, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Virginie Ledoyen, Tilda Swinton, Robert Carlyle and Guillaume Canet.

Provides examples of:

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    Tropes Present in Both Versions 
  • Anti-Villain / Noble Demon: In the movie, the head farmer appears to be genuine when he says that he doesn't want to hurt anyone and just wants to farm his marijuana in peace. Case in point, the revolver he gives to Sal to kill Richard with turns out to be unloaded, and judging by his smirk when he sees everyone else's horrified panic that Sal would have actually killed Richard, he was planning on getting them all to leave without killing anyone else. In the book, he's darker but still prefers to scare the beachers rather than kill them.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The beach is effectively dead, along with a number of characters, but Richard and his closest friends at least manage to escape.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: The copy of the map Richard makes turns up when he and Sal go to the mainland. And after a few more minutes in the movie, the stoners he gave it to end up on the island.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Zeph and Sammy's map.
  • Crapsaccharine World: The beach is a perfect paradise and they even make regular trips to the mainland so people don't have to miss their favorite modern conveniences. However Sal will do anything to preserve the community, even leaving Christo to die and shooting Richard if it means they get to stay. And that's not to mention the farmers with guns on the island and the sharks in the water.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The last we know about Sal.
  • Driven to Suicide: Daffy, see Go Mad from the Revelation below.
  • Enemy Within: Richard unwittingly becomes this, what with slipping into madness - plus, his naïve desire for danger and adventure cloud his judgement and lead him and his friends into bad situations.
  • Everyone Looks Sexier if French: The lovely Françoise.
  • Failed a Spot Check: When Zeph, Sammy and their friends arrive on the island, Richard notes that they aren't all that cautious or aware of the potential danger they're in. When they find the marijuana fields they don't realise (as Étienne did) that they're in the middle of a field, and they make so much noise that they're caught by the cannabis farmers, beaten and dragged off to be killed.
  • First-Person Smartass: Richard is a well-read Genre Savvy narrator. Although he didn't visit all Asian countries, he knows South-East Asia very well, he often refers to American culture and outsmarts many people.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Richard near the end suspects that the reason Daffy both went insane and gave Richard the map to the island before killing himself was that he knew the island could not stay secret forever, and that sooner or later it would become just as filthy and tourist-filled as anywhere else, especially Ko Pha Ngan or other places in Thailand. He gave the map to Richard, knowing he would copy it and give it to others, hence accelerating, or "euthanizing" the demise of the community. Though remember that this is just Richards take on it, and may or may not be true. Jed also believes it.
  • Heel Realization: Richard sees the rafters coming from a long way off, and both Jed and his hallucination of Daffy implores him to head them off and make them turn back before they encounter the plantation guards. Instead, the briefly sociopathic Richard follows Sal's orders and only observes them until the rafters trespass on the plantation field. He doesn't even seem to care about them being beaten and dragged off even though he had befriended Zeph and Sammy some months earlier, but when Daffy questions his mindless commitment to Sal's orders rather than trying to save the lives of the rafters, as well as Richard hearing the gunshots as the guards murder the rafters, he realizes the full weight of what's happened and appropriately loses his cool.
  • Holiday in Cambodia: The island houses a marijuana plantation, fortified by guards armed with automatic rifles. Marijuana smoking is mentioned in the book, in Bangkok and Ko Pha Ngan. Oh, and of course, there are hookers.
  • In Harm's Way: Richard gets increasingly reckless, at one point stalking an armed plantation guard through the jungle just for the thrill of it.
  • Karma Houdini: The Tawainese dope farmers who murder the Americans keep living and running their farm, although the film has them pull a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Keeping Secrets Sucks: See Secret-Keeper. Richard has to share the map with Etienne, and the dead junkie at Hat Rin with Jed.
  • Knight of Cerebus: The unseen shark. See Mood Whiplash below.
  • Love Triangle: Richard is besotted with Etienne's girlfriend Francoise. Her feelings towards him are rather ambiguous. In the book it is only one of Richard's fantasy, but in the movie, things get real.
  • Mercy Kill: Richard, to a mortally wounded Christo. In the book, he doesn't react and dies silently, but in the movie he starts to move and moan.
  • Mood Whiplash: Richard and everyone else are having a great time on the island and it genuinely appears to be a paradise. Then the Swedes are attacked by a shark. It all goes downhill from there.
  • The Multiverse: Discussed briefly just before they get to The Beach.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Daffy, Bugs and Sal ("Sylvester" in the book). The reader/watcher never learns their real names.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • Richard gets too baked and cracked to be qualified "sane", even when he cares about Christo, or understands stuff others don't. In the movie, he's almost a fool and only starts thinking at the climax, while in the book he's smart but twisted. Though he does manage to calm Etienne and Françoise after they discover the fields and their guards.
    • In the book, Jed takes care of Christo in his tent near the camp, while no other beacher seems to care about the suffering of their Swedish friend.
    • In the movie, this part goes to Étienne, who is also the only one to disagree with abandoning Christo far away in the woods.
  • Plenty of Blondes: Justified since being out in the sun every day would bleach a lot of people's hair blonde.
  • Posthumous Character: Daffy, most of whose part in the novel is dreamed/imagined/hallucinated by Richard.
  • Sanity Slippage: Richard is on the way, starting at the second half of both the movie and the book. Also, every Beachers in the book, during the climax.
  • Secret-Keeper:
    • In the book, Jed knows about the map Richard made for Zeph and Sammy. Richard also feels compelled to tell him he hid the dead junkie corpse, on the Rice Run to Hat Rin.
    • In the movie, Richard and Sal discuss the trope (regarding his secret mission), and how it's much easier to keep a secret if you tell one other person.
  • Surfer Dude: Sammy and Zeph, at first; subverted, only in the book, when Richard cottons on that it's all an act in response to snobby European travelers. In the movie, they are really supposed to be some surfer dudes.
  • Sudden Video-Game Moment: When Richard is running through the jungle in the film, and the game he imagines in the book.
  • The Tetris Effect: In the film, when Richard is in the jungle he briefly sees everything as a video game with HUD, lives and enemies as obstacles. Alluded to in a different scene in the novel, when he describes turning a sneak through the jungle into a Stealth-Based Game where he would lose lives for making loud noises.
  • Theme Naming: The island's founders are Only Known By Their Nicknames of Bugs, Daffy and Sylvester (shortened to Sal).
  • Those Two Guys: Zeph and Sammy are almost always mentioned in conjunction.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: See Unreliable Narrator.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Richard gets steadily more deranged over the course, both in the movie and the novel. But then, so does everybody else. Possibly due in no small part to the massive amounts of drugs everyone is doing.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Richard realizes that Daffy gave him the map — as well as spread rumors of the island all over Thailand — so that many travelers would come looking for the beach, inevitably leading to its becoming a tourist destination. Daffy describes this act as "euthanizing" the community, and Richard realizes he was merely a pawn in Daffy's revenge plan.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Sal does, and has done, some extremely dodgy things to maintain the paradise.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Sal. She just wanted to keep the Beach for themselves.

    Tropes Present in the Book 
  • The Cavalry: Jed, Keaty, Etienne and Francoise turn up with spears at the last second when the rest of the camp turns on Richard.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Along with the map, the false lead in the sea tunnel.
  • Enemy Within: Along with Richard, Sal, whose desire to protect the Beach from the outside world reaches sociopathic heights, and is the main cause of most of the horrific events taking place at the climax of the novel. Jed also considers Daffy as this because of the map, though he understands his logic.
  • A House Divided: The beach community suffers divisions after the food poisoning incident that never get repaired, with the sides either supporting or disliking Bugs.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Zeph and Sammy intentionally pretend to be stupid Americans but are actually well-educated and intelligent.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Richard returns to England and goes his separate ways with Etienne and Francoise, who return to France. Keaty and Jed are working at the same company, and Richard sees Cassie on the news as she is arrested and awaiting an inevitable execution for trying to smuggle drugs to pay for a ticket back home. This makes him realize that the others have probably left the island as well, though he presumes that Sal and Bugs are both dead.

    Tropes Present in the Film 
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The ending is different from the book's, which had Richard, Françoise, Étienne, Keaty, and Jed attempting to escape from the now crumbling community. In the book's epilogue after their successful escape, they move into their respective lives. Richard loses touch with Étienne and Françoise yet finds it hard to be totally freed of the effects of his experiences in that "parallel universe."
  • Adaptational Nationality: In the novel, Richard is English and Sal is American. In the film, they're reversed.
  • Adaptation Distillation:
    • Many side plots and characters were cut, most obviously Jed, but most key plots went from the book to the movie. Still, in the book, Richard never has sex with Sal nor Françoise, though he often considers it.
    • Richard's frequent references to The Vietnam War, and pop culture related to it such as Apocalypse Now and M*A*S*H, are absent in the movie, although he does look in on a theater showing a piece of Apocalypse Now in Thailand towards the beginning. It is a part of the famous Napalm Bombing scene. note 
  • Adaptation Relationship Overhaul: In the book, Richard never sleeps with Françoise despite having feelings for her, which he thinks are reciprocated, saying that he considers Étienne a good guy and would not want to do that to him. He also never sleeps with Sal
  • Adapted Out: Ella (who works for Unhygienix), Jean (the leader of the gardening detail), Cassie (who works for Bugs), Jesse (who works in the gardening detail), Moshe (the head of the second fishing detail), and the two unnamed Yugoslavian girls (who work for Moshe) do not appear in the film.
  • Call-Back: Two that come back at the very end. Richard's speech about a parallel universe and Françoise's photo of everyone on the beach. At the end she e-mails him the photo with the caption "Parallel Universe" on it.
  • Decomposite Character: Jed is dropped for the film but much of his role remains, going to Etienne, Keaty and Sal.
  • Double Standard: Francoise slaps Richard and calls him a pig after finding out he cheated on her and slept with Sal. Funny considering she did more or less the exact same thing by cheating on Étienne with Richard, and no one (not even Richard!) calls her out on her hypocrisy.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Played With. Sal forces Richard to sleep with her, knowing he can't do anything about it. It's used as an indicator that she's bad news.
  • Driven to Suicide: Along with Daffy, Sal, in a deleted scene after her attempt to kill Richard at the farmer's insistence shocks and horrifies everyone else into leaving the island, can't bear to leave her precious paradise and turns the gun on herself.
  • Drugs Are Good: The characters smoke pot casually and rejoice when they discover a large field of cannabis plants. Averted when they realize that it's being guarded by armed men, which causes a lot of negative drama.
  • Everyone Has Standards: The moment Sal pulls the trigger on the gun given to her to "execute" Richard, everybody knows that this whole thing has gone too damn far and immediately leave.
  • Evil Brit: Sal which changes her from American to British.
  • Good-Times Montage: The second quarter, when Richard, Françoise and Étienne have been accepted into the beach community.
  • Group Picture Ending: The movie ends with Richard looking at a "YEAH!" Shot of the group sent through via email.
  • Hidden Purpose Test: The head farmer at the climax gives Sal a gun to kill Richard. Sal takes him literally and pulls the trigger, but there's no bullet in the chamber and his actual goal is to scare the rest of the group into leaving rather than stay under the leadership of a murderer. His smirk after Sal 'passes' his test says it all.
  • Hypocrite: Francoise is definitely one. She calmly cheats on her boyfriend with Richard, then gets outraged when Richard sleeps with Sal.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Étienne says this more or less word for word to Richard after he finds out he slept with Francoise.
  • Ironic Hell: Sal is too attracted to the beach to want to leave, but she will have to live alone and knowing she scared off everybody else with her extremism.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Sal is given an ultimatum by the Thai farmers that she must shoot Richard. She tries, but there is no bullet in the gun. Richard is not harmed.
  • Karma Houdini: Invoked by Sal when she tells everyone that Richard slept with her. As leader, nobody would question her. Francoise would attack Richard but Bugs wouldn't dare leave her.
  • Lighter and Softer: The gruesome fate of the surfers at the hands of the drug farmers and the subsequent mutilation of their bodies by the crazed islanders was omitted.
  • Love Triangle: Richard starts hanging out as the 3rd wheel with a young, good looking French couple and not surprisingly, ends up coming between them.
  • Mr. Fanservice: With the film set on a tropical island, Richard is happy to go shirtless in many scenes.
  • Scenery Porn: But of course.
  • Stargazing Scene: Richard and Francoise had a night on the beach taking pictures of the stars. Richard starts talking about parallel universes, and in his internal monologue, discusses how he's become infatuated with Francoise as the two mess around with the star camera.
  • Tantrum Throwing: When Richard is watching Zeph and Sammy having fun on the opposite island, he throws down the binoculars violently. Later, they seem to be still working fine.
    Richard: Great!! GREAAAT!!!
  • Threatening Shark: There are a couple of brushes with sharks in the water surrounding the island paradise. Richard kills one with a knife, but 2 other attacks end in death and serious injuries.
  • The Tooth Hurts: One of the inhabitants of the island needs to have a tooth pulled out, but he's not allowed to return to the mainland to have it done by a dentist. This foreshadows the problems caused by the shark attack later on.
  • Too Dumb to Live: When confronted by the visibly armed marijuana plantation farmers - one of whom is obviously nervous - the leading American tourist keeps jerking around and doesn't keep his hands in plain view, then makes a sudden move towards their leader. Unsurprisingly the panicky kid instantly fires a burst into his torso.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Richard, as well as most of the characters are young and financially well-off to the point of making global tourism a full-time lifestyle, and they cluelessly charge into dangerous or tenuous situations seeking adventure. It blows up in several of their faces.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Justified of course since it's Thailand and they are on a beach.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Sal forcing Richard to sleep with her. He won't say anything out of fear of what Bugs will do, or else in case of jeopardizing his relationship with Françoise. And Sal gets collateral in case Richard pisses her off.