Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Richard, an American tourist trying to find himself by running away from modern technology. While vacationing in Thailand, he meets a beautiful French girl, is given a treasure map by a suicidal expatriate, and journeys to a hidden paradise on a nearby island. The inhabitants are at peace with the local machine-gun-carrying, marijuana-growing farmers, so long as other outsiders don’t venture unto this hidden island. Richard is accepted into the commune, where they smoke, drink, use pot, and party-hearty. They trade their homegrown marijuana for food and other necessities, but they have ignored the complexities of our modern, digital-obsessed world.
However, this Utopia’s idyllic surface hides a host of dark and foreboding secrets. Quickly Richard learns that the hedonistic hippy group turns its back on all problems, including anyone who is injured or sick, abandoning them to die where the group does not have to see their pain and suffering.
When it is discovered that Richard has left a copy of his map with a duo of young drunks, thereby leading others to the hidden Eden, he is ostracized by his island peers. Alone, exiled from the others and scorned by the girl he loved, but cheated on, Richard slowly loses touch with reality.
This dark, depressing hodgepodge has the lead mistakenly thinking he can find satisfaction by filling his own existence with new and untried experiences. He even drinks an animal’s blood! (There’s nothing like drinking the blood of a snake to show rebellion against the establishment.) The group he eventually settles with attempts to escape the hypocrisies of society, but without a spiritual leading, they fall into the same traps as those who try to fill their life with possessions or conquests. Like Hemingway’s Lost Generation, this group thinks they will find fulfillment through narcissism. The film echoes many of the sinister, dispiriting elements found in “Lord of the Flies,” “The Deer Hunter,” and “Apocalypse Now.” But, where those films could arguably be said to contain insight, “The Beach” is simply a bad travelogue, peopled by one-dimensional, uninteresting characters.