Review: ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’

I came away from last night’s Picture of Dorian Gray without quite knowing how to feel. I should have prepared myself better. Why I thought deep depravity, abuse and narcissism wouldn’t affect me I cannot say. But it did. I guess that makes it a good film.

Oscar Wilde’s famed novel about a young man who trades his soul to stay young and beautiful forever adapts extremely well to modern day Manhattan. Basil Howard comes through as an earnest, if imperfect, young artist who evokes perhaps more sympathy than even Dorian’s early love interest and Basil’s friend, Sybil Vane. Basil is also beautiful, though not quite as much as Dorian, but he is also hurt my Dorian and this pain mirrors Sybil’s in a way that makes you wonder how Dorian is so able to scar on such a deep level. And yet, I couldn’t ever wholly hate Dorian. That’s a feat for someone so evil, beautiful and rich. But he was also damaged. He was a boy who never matured, was never allowed to truly grow and learn. Instead the evil that eats him inside manifests in the greatest work of art Basil has ever created. And this lovely piece turns as ugly as the diseased soul that Dorian’s has been replaced with.

The installation-esque cinematography reflects this beauty/beast dichotomy found in great art. Whereas Thursday’s Itty Bitty Titty Committee used grainy videography to produce a sense of homemade empowerment, the quick shots, odd angles, and distorted imagery here gives a sense of desperation and loss of control. The bulk of the film is just strange enough to make you feel like you aren’t really seeing what you think you’re seeing, to make you feel inebriated, under the influence of some sinister narcotics. This is not to say that at times it did not go a little too far. Occasionally the tension was broken by a theater full if queers erupting in nervous laughter. But even if the broken words or split second dirty imagery was a bit cheesy to many I don’t think I ever cracked a smile. While it may have been silly at times to interject the blatant words that the audience could have probably inferred on its own, it didn’t diminish the seriousness of the content for me. At times Dorian Gray faltered, but in the whole it was a powerful and moving piece on beauty, self-sufficiency and what we will give up in their pursuit.

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