A pointless rendition of an excellent book!

By Rukshani Weerasooriya 

There is rarely a good selection of movies on a late-night seven-hour flight. But I got lucky this last time I flew. There were tons of movies on there I had been waiting to watch. Dorian Gray was the uppermost on my list.

The reason being, my longstanding love affair with Oscar Wilde ever since I was a teenager. Having watched it, however, I don’t recommend it as much as I thought I would.

While the essence of the story was preserved in the movie, I found it failed to strike that beautiful balance Oscar Wilde always did in his work. Dorian Gray ought not to be forced into one particular genre, which, unfortunately, this movie tended to do. My advice is therefore - don’t watch it - unless you have read and loved the book first.

I carry a tattered paperback copy of the Picture of Dorian Gray with me where ever I go. I have done so for about the past six years of my life. It was a present from my then brother-in-law to- be who came a-courting and basically wanted to bribe the family Terrier (me) into liking him. It worked.

I have not managed to get over Oscar Wilde since the discovery of Dorian Gray and his other marvelous creations. I must, however, admit that when I first read Dorian Gray I didn’t fall flat on my face in love with its author. In fact, I found the dialogue a bit awkward. I mean, who goes around philosophizing at t he drop of a hat about beauty and sensuality and perfection? Don’t people just answer the question and move on in real life?

Lord Henry Wotton seemed to me to have some sort of itch that wasn’t being scratched and it was bordering on annoying. But it didn’t take more than a few chapters for that mild little point of criticism to wear down. This is how unreliable first impressions can be. I began to get engrossed in the sheer genius of Wilde’s writing, in comparison to which all his other possible flaws faded miserably into nothingness. I was utterly taken in. And have been ever since.

Even if you don’t like the plot of the Picture of Dorian Gray, there is no way you will not enjoy reading it just as a work of art. I suppose if someone had to write a character so absurd and far removed, and yet so perfect, it would have to be Oscar Wilde, and his character – Lord Henry Wotton, because the combination is simply infallible.

This does not come through in the movie as much as it does in the book. Lord Henry, the backbone of the story, blatantly reflects the witty, controversial, nonsensical  side of Oscar Wilde, which you can’t help but love, even if you feel very strongly against what he says. Likewise, Dorian Gray and Basil Hallward also reflect certain aspects of Oscar Wilde, though they are the less jovial, more solemn aspects of him.
Significantly, Lord Henry is both the villain and the hero; the comic and the deadly sin.

He is realistic in that eccentric way in which he conducts his life, but at the same time, he is far removed from reality. He is, in short, a contradiction through and through. And so is the entire novel. It is a horror story which is incredibly funny; a murder-mystery that is solved from the outset; a tale of innocence and horrible sin – all rolled into one.  It teaches a deep moral lesson using the vilest of tools. It will string you with a poison, but present you with the cure.

If you haven’t already done so, pick up Dorian Gray and give it a read. The character of Dorian is potentially any one of us misled innocents. That is the true horror of the story. And the movie does little to capture this.

There are some books so good that they should not be attempted in the movie-making world. This, I believe is one of those books. I’d say lay off the movie altogether and just give the book a nice good read. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

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