Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Film Review: Dorian Gray (2009)

I've been on a bit of a Colin Firth kick lately, after viewing The King's Speech.  I was so very excited for Firth when he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor!  (You can view his gracious and funny acceptance speech at this link:  "Colin Firth Wins at Golden Globes 2011".  Even more fun, watch him in a post-award interview on E! speaking Italian.)  He was absolutely deserving of this award, and from the body of work he has acted in, how can you not love everything about Colin Firth?  I know I'm still in love with this versatile actor.

Having gushed just a smidge about Firth's acting abilities, I took some time this past weekend to watch Dorian Gray, based on Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.  I actually read the novel back when I first started "One Literature Nut," but didn't ever write a review.  Now I wish I had, as the film reminded me of the subtlety of Oscar Wilde's writing about such a startling downfall.

In the film, a young and handsome Dorian Gray (played by Ben Barnes) played directly against the standards of his Victorian society by trading his beauty in a portrait for that of his own.  Goaded on by Lord Henry Wotton (played by Firth), Dorian is urged to live a life of pleasure, as Lord Henry convinces Dorian that the only way to avoid being pressured by one's vices is to give into them.  From this, Dorian begins to explore his senses, giving up what could have been his one true love for a hedonistic lifestyle, giving into every vice known to man.  As Dorian sank deeper and deeper into his lifestyle, he noticed that the portrait began to show signs of deep ugliness to the point of frightening him.  The portrait of Dorian began to look haggard, cruel, debased, and pock-marked with the deepest, most ghoulish signs of ugliness.  Not only had the portrait aged, but it had taken on the hideous characteristics buried within his soul.

Through the film, we are artistically drawn into much deeper questions about the importance of physical beauty, living with restraint, and the distortion of social values. More outright in its depiction of Dorian's pursuit of pleasure, often shocking in its breadth, we really get a sense for how far he was willing to go as he delved farther into his lifestyle. The acting was  superb, losing us in these characters and their experiences.  Although I love Firth for so many of the endearing characters he has played (Darcy in P&P and Bridget Jones Diary, in Nanny McPhee, etc.), I was completely lost in his role as scandalous villain Lord Henry Wotton; rarely did I feel that he was anything other than Lord Henry himself.  Ben Barnes also played what felt like a flawless Dorian, showing the cunning side of evil with a pretty face to hide behind.  In fact, I shuddered at his ability to show evil with such beauty.

Without giving anything away, I have to admit that the last thirty minutes of the film were by far the most gripping.  There is this Edgar Alan Poe meets Alfred Hitchcock moment where you have to rethink the entire film!  Honestly, the last moments were priceless and bear mentioning.

Dorian Gray is not a film I'll be sharing with any of my students, but will say that for anyone who likes period pieces or films based on literature (with a gritty edge), this is a great film.  The themes in this film bear considering and are presented in such a dark, freaky way that you can't help thinking about them once the film is over.  In fact, one of Dorian's lines near the end of the film has echoed in my head ever since, "Pleasure is different from happiness."

If you're curious, here is the link to the trailer for Dorian Gray.


  1. Sounds fabulous! I really want to see this now.

    Have you seen Valmont? It's based on Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Colin Firth plays the notorious Valmont. He's amazingly good in that movie!

  2. You've been on a Colin Firth kick? Well, really who could blame you? :-D

  3. Heidenkind--Yes! I have seen Valmont and found the relationship between him and Annette Bening so strange! I should watch it again though. I don't remember a lot about it.

    Rural View--:) No kidding! *sigh*

  4. I have been a long time fan of Colin Firth and can't wait to see him in The Kings Speech!

  5. Elisabeth--As I'm going back through his films, I'm realizing what a truly remarkable actor he is! Regardless of what he plays in, he's fantastic. Much love for Colin!

  6. Sounds great...I really enjoy the book, and I can imagine all that you could do with it on film!

  7. I adore the dreamy Colin Firth! But, I have not seen this movie, so thanks for the rec. Can't wait to see him again on the red carpet tomorrow for the SAGs and again for the Oscars.