Book vs Movie: (The Picture of) Dorian Gray

Posted October 1, 2014 by Inge in Book vs Movie, Features / 10 Comments

It’s a new month, which sounds like the perfect time to start our brand new feature – Book vs Movie! The title speaks for itself – in this feature, we’ll be comparing books to their movies.

For our very first time, I’m starting with a classic, namely The Picture of Dorian Gray, written in 1891 by Oscar Wilde. There are several movie adaptations of this book, but I’ll be using Dorian Gray from 2009. Mostly because I’m not a big fan of old movies (believe me, I’ve tried – I was a film student for a semester) and also because Ben Barnes. So, without further ado, here goes!

Dorian Gray

The book

I’ve wanted to read The Picture of Dorian Gray for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been intrigued by the painting aspect. How did Dorian stay young but the painting grew old? I’ve always wanted to know. So finally, I picked up the book. My problem with classics is that no one knows when to shut up, which always gives them a slow pace. Not only do the characters need to put a sock in it, so does the narrator. I get bored and lose focus when things take a long time to happen.

Like I said – it’s the painting that interests me the most, but it’s not featured a lot during the first half of the book. We get a love story between a naïve Dorian and a young actress. It was tough to get through, because the woman didn’t even know his name, but she was convinced that she loved him and that they were going to be together forever. So when he turns her down in a rather cruel way, things start picking up. Every cruel thing he does starts to show in his portrait. They say that you cannot live a sinful life without it showing on your face. Because of that, everyone thinks Dorian is a young and respectable man, because he is flawless. Little do they know that his portrait grows ever more cruel-looking, and even starts turning red when Dorian turns violent. The portrait is influenced by every action of Dorian’s, while Dorian is influenced by how the painting looks. It’s an intriguing vicious cycle and I was really interested to witness Dorian’s downward spiral.

Despite my problems with the pace and the insta-love, I’m really glad I finally read it, because it was dark and engaging when it needed to be. Even if it took a while for things to pick up, the portrait did not disappoint.

The movie

I have exactly four words to describe this movie: that shit was nasty.

This adaptation of Dorian Gray is not fully true to the book, rather it was liberally based on the story, with quite a few additions.

The first thing that grabbed my attention was the fact that Colin Firth made a magnificent Henry. He was just the right type to portray this cynical man. I didn’t understand half of what he was saying, but he was absolutely stellar in his portrayal, slowly but surely corrupting Dorian’s soul. And Ben Barnes was just the right kid for Dorian. He looked so young and gullible in he beginning, the perfect set of ears for Henry’s unorthodox musings. He’s not bad to look at either, which helps.

“Life is a moment – there is no hereafter. So make it burn, always, with the hardest flame.”

“Anything is possible for you, because you have the only two things in the world worth having: youth and beauty.”

I thought that Dorian’s road to corruption was portrayed really well. His look goes from innocent to calculating to downright cruel. Not only does he corrupt himself, but those around him as well, with Henry orchestrating everything behind the scenes. Eventually, they start to overdo it with showing all of Dorian’s exploits. We get it – he gave in to temptation. There’s really no need to make everything look like one big orgy where people cut each other and drip hot wax on one another. Although Ben must have really enjoyed kissing so many women.

Now, I’m a bit of a wuss. I can read everything because I’m not a visual reader – I don’t often see scenes and characters very vividly in my head when I’m reading. But I have difficulty seeing violence and gross images on a screen. Which is why I did not appreciate the addition of live maggots coming out of the portrait’s mouth and eyeballs. Seriously – that shit was nasty. Then the portrait also starts making these suffering sounds, which I get – it has to bear the burden of Dorian’s continuous sins, and it gave me a much more ominous feeling than I got in the book, but it was too gritty for my taste.

It was also too long. The movie was 1 hour and 47 minutes, and it could’ve easily been cut down. I got a little bored. I did like the ending, where Dorian becomes paranoid and starts seeing things. He becomes desperate to turn his life around. I also really liked the added subplot where Dorian falls in love with Henry’s daughter, making Henry turn hostile towards his old friend.

In the end, the message is clear. When you sell your soul to the devil, you turn into Argus Filch.

Dorian gray

The verdict

While I’m usually not a big fan of classics and I didn’t really get creeped out by the book, I’m still going to say I enjoyed the book better than the movie. I thought the movie overdid it with the graphic sex scenes, violent scenes and disgusting scenes (WERE THE MAGGOTS REALLY NECESSARY), although both Ben’s as well as Colin’s performances were top-notch.

Now someone kindly send me kittens so I can get the image of maggot infestations out of my brain.

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10 responses to “Book vs Movie: (The Picture of) Dorian Gray

  1. I tried reading the book, but I lost interest after a chapter or two. I might try again at some point, but right now it doesn’t really tempt me. I love your thoughts on the message of the movie. 😀

    • Haha! I got a sudden déjà vu feeling when I saw that portrait.. anyway, yeah, the beginning of the book is rather slow, and there’s a chapter that I almost entirely skipped, but it’s quite good for a classic.

  2. This movie definitely wanted to up the Gothic factor of the story from what I remember! I’m glad you enjoyed the main actors performances because I think that’s the most memorable part of the film! I think the old 1945 film version of the story is really well done though, if you are at all interested in watching that. It’s much less offensive for one thing. 🙂

    • I haven’t had much luck with older movies, but I’ll have to give it a try if you say it’s really well done. I still quite like the premise, it’d be interesting to see what others have done with the story.

  3. I watched the movie before I read the book, so I went into the books expecting the uber weird parties with lots of kissing and sex etc etc and then … none of that was really IN the novel, and I was disappointed. NOT IN A CREEPY WAY. Just in like a: I thought he’d do more with this eternal youth thing. I just felt as if he didn’t really DO much, especially since he was supposed to be ridiculously good looking.

    Overall, I thought both the book and movie were average. I think Ben Barnes was perfect because he is SO PRETTY. And I did like the addition of the Henry’s daughter subplot, too. I’m glad to have read the book because it’s so iconic, and it was a pretty interesting read.

    • I find classics to be a little underwhelming in general – I’m doing a discussion post on that soon. I think the movie did a very good job of portraying Ben’s demise. AND YES THE PRETTY.

  4. Stephanie

    Just wanted to tell you how much your review made me laugh! My boyfriend and I watched the movie yesterday in lieu of reading the book for Book Club (shameful, I know) so I was looking on the Web for differences between the book and movie, and came across your website. Looking forward to reading more of your blogs!

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