Thailand is the quintessential tropical travel destination for many people. It promises freedom, unlimited possibilities, and the ability to shed one’s identity- in other words, utopia. However, its status as such is gradually being eroded by the advent of tourism. The beaches of Thailand, while picture-perfect, can no longer be described as tranquil due to the influx of crowds eager for a slice of island paradise.
This is the Thailand that Richard encounters- one that embodies the hopes and anxieties of the current generation. Richard and his youthful peers are disenfranchised, bored with their comfortable lives and thrill seeking. They rebel against authority, control and conformity. This is manifested in their disdain for the obvious, overly ‘tourist-y’ islands and constant scouting of the next big spot. It is easy to see why the story of a mythical island, untouched by traveller mania, is so appealing. Furthermore, one can imagine the lengths to which people would go to protect such a place if it existed.
Garland presents a fascinating portrait of Richard as an inherently flawed, multi-dimensional character. His complex psyche reveals influences from pop culture and defining historical events such as the Vietnam War. He craves danger, excitement, the ‘kick’ (much like that of a drug), anything to jolt him out of a mundane existence. In an odd, twisted way, Richard secretly wishes for the things he fears to happen. This self-destructive tendency and reckless streak seems to be a defining characteristic of today’s youth.
Without giving too much away, The Beach for me is essentially a fantasy that becomes frighteningly real. With the growing prevalence of actual events that mimic video games and other kinds of digital media, The Beach is discomfiting yet highly revealing.