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Motion Pictures

Travel Ideals in Film


Edited By Gemma Blackwood and Andrew McGregor

This volume examines representations and explorations of travel ideals in contemporary international cinema. It assembles work from a diverse range of academic fields including anthropology, sociology, ethnography, cinema, culture, tourism, communication and language studies, with contributions from international experts such as Mary Louise Pratt of New York University, whose work on ‘contact zones’ continues to provide the framework for scholarship on travel writing around the world. The volume explores the link between filmed spaces and real locations, with one of the fundamental dynamics being the investigation of filmmaking itself, and in particular the notion that cultural authenticity may be sought and found by filming ‘on location’. Also examined are the notions of fantasy and exoticism that arise through an idealisation of the locations themselves and their transformational impact on the protagonists who travel there. Such is the impact of motion pictures on contemporary culture that these travel ideals in film will inevitably influence our understanding of cities, regions, nations and cultures; indeed, the world around us and our role in it.
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Chapter Seven: Paradise Glossed: The Representation of Backpacker Ideals in The Beach




Paradise Glossed: The Representation of Backpacker Ideals in The Beach

How does one represent other cultures?1

Ideals, aye? We were just fucking parasites!2

There is a scene near the end of the 20th Century Fox film The Beach (Danny Boyle, 2000) – based on British author Alex Garland’s bestseller about backpackers in Southeast Asia – that highlights the fraught real-life politics between millenial Western tourists and local residents in Thailand. This movie, filmed with a budget of $US fifty million and produced by British company Figment Films, pivots its story around a young American called Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is searching for authentic travel experiences in the East.3 While in Bangkok, a suicidal Scottish backpacker bequeaths Richard a map leading the way to a perfect, unspoiled beach on an isolated island near Phuket. With the aid of a young French couple, Richard locates the island, where the trio discover a virtually self-sufficient Western backpacker community. Over time a series of events – shark attack, the ongoing threat of tourist discovery, infidelity, murder – takes the pleasure out of this supposedly idyllic paradise and Richard is quickly alienated from the ideal backpacking community. ← 135 | 136 →

The scene of the film I am highlighting occurs when the boss marijuana grower of the isolated island, who has allowed the backpackers to set up residence at the idyllic sheltered beach at one end of the island, finally loses patience at...

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