Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Dorian Gray: did he need the picture anyway?

The other day I started thinking about all the books I haven't read yet. Not ever being able to read every book I want to read is just one of my ever-present background fears. Others include apocalypse (specifically nuclear), being orphaned, getting wrinkles, not ever getting a dog, breeding with someone and then ending up silently resenting them for the next 40 years.

So I decided to just do it. Start reading them. Get on to that pile of Dickens that I have been ignoring since forever. The only Dickens I had ever read was A Christmas Carol. I wrote a whole essay at degree level about Bleak House without ever opening the actual book. And this was before the days of nicking stuff from the internet. Fuck, I'm old. And a genius, clearly.

Anyway, as I have recently seen a film of Dorian Gray, I thought I'd have me a bit of Wilde before I got stuck in to Dickens' ouvre. I knew the story roughly before the film of course: Faustian tale, pretty boy's soul stuck in painting, he never ages etc etc, blah blah. In the film he kills himself after living a rather awesome-looking life of drugs, fucking and general depravity.

The book, however, is rather different. For a start, Dorian is a schmuck. He's a knobhead. He's a totally shallow albeit fit guy. He doesn't need to make a deal with the devil to lose his soul; I'm doubtful he had one in the first place. He's an empty headed scumbag. All he thinks about is how ace he looks and how he can put his penis in people. This is true before he loses his soul to the painting and it's true afterwards.

He's 20 years old as he sits for his portrait. The artist is clearly gay and fancying the pants off our Dorian, who idly plays with his emotions. Everyone loves the painting but none more so than Dorian himself, who can't stop staring at his own face. What a tool.

In passing he wishes out loud that he could swap his soul in exchange for always looking so awesomely smooth.

He falls in love (lust) with an actress who he then goes off in about a week, leading to a really familiar situation. After proclaiming his undying love for her and asking her to marry him, he changes his mind literally overnight. He goes to dump her: "You have disappointed me. I can not see you again." She cries and wails and pleads and begs because she believed him, you see. Silly girl. Silly, silly girl.

He watches her fall apart and muses: "There is something ridiculous about the emotions of the people whom one has ceased to love." How many times have you seen that in the face of your asshole boyfriend as he does a total about turn and decides 'we need a break'? No? Just me then?

After walking out and leaving her drowning in a lake of her own snot, he dusts himself off with the thought that "Women were better suited to bear sorrow than men. They lived on their emotions."

He's wrong, naturally, and she kills herself. His first thought when he finds out? "She had no right to kill herself." What about meeeee? He very quickly decides that: "The girl never really lived, so she never really died." This cheers him up immensely and puts him in the mood to go and sow his seed to the four winds.

This is the first moment he notices a change in his portrait and figures out the whole soul-loss deal. He momentarily thinks about destroying the painting and therefore saving everyone else from his horrible behaviour... but that soon passes as he concentrates on how many women and men he can dip his increasingly used wick into. He doesn't want to do the right thing because he only wants to do things that feel good. To him. Regardless of the consequences. As he says: "I don't want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, to dominate them." And that's what he does.

This is the point I think. He isn't a victim exactly. He has a choice. He always has a choice. He has a vague idea that he's hurting people but shakes it off because he is shallow inside and out. He has the attitude of the born beautiful and I don't actually think he would have acted any differently had he never had his soul trapped in his painting. He would have been just the same but wouldn't have been able to shag quite as many people on account of his opium-rotted features and terrible breath.

Various adventures ensue, including him killing his artist friend and generally acting like my university boyfriend (apart from the killing bit). Eventually even Dorian gets sick of himself and decides to destroy the painting, not in a noble, self-sacrificing way that the film has you believe. No, he just wants to destroy it so he can live out the rest of his life normally. It doesn't occur to him that to kill his soul will destroy his own self.

Anyway, he does kill himself and his corpse ain't pretty.

I didn't expect to get the distinct feeling that Dorian really doesn't need a portrait to be a complete bellend.




He is my ex.

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