Richard, a quirky American tourist, travelled to Thailand in search of an adventure. An open-minded kid full of fantasies and unfulfilled desires. He is presented as a blank canvas character- devoid of a socially constructed ego — truly present and observant of the moment. He has no customs or preconceived notions as he solitarily travels into chaos.
The first test for Richard is in the market where he is offered snake blood. By instinct, he rejects the offer — but when the guy who offered the snake blood stated that he is not different than a typical American tourist, he accepts the offer and drinks the snake blood. This is the framework of Richard’s reaction towards chaos — with an open mind and confidence. Not afraid to lose control — in fact, in search of rinsing away from the order that constructed his identity. An important statement by him was: ‘‘Enjoy the moment, but don’t overstay your welcome.’’ Proving that he was by no means settling down with the people he met and creating a comfort zone, an order, of his own. An adventure is no adventure if you settle down after the first hiatus. Back in his hotel, he observes American tourists watching TV. Richard is quite aware of the contradictory nature of American tourists, which causes him to further develop his own ideology of a constant adventure.
His first encounter with his own fantasy is the sexual. Richard meets a beautiful French tourist named Francoise — and of course, she has a French boyfriend called Etienne. Richard concedes to the defeat of the fantasy in that instance, and moves on. The urges of his fantasy are stiffened due to the sex that Richard and Françoise are having at night. Just in that moment, a drunk lunatic named Daffy makes his appearance. Knocking on doors and shouting, a typical psychological mess of a human being. He then appears on the ceiling of Richard’s room, where there is some space for them to see each other. Instead of running away from him, he again jumps into chaos, daring another adventure. Daffy starts smoking weed and Richard joins him — Daffy begins to describe a hidden island: Lots of drugs, beautiful women, perfect beach — absolute paradise. Richard, being alone and motivated for adventure, surrenders to the fantasy of a hidden island. Next morning, he finds a map on his bedroom that provides the directions to the beach. He then finds out that Daffy committed suicide. Daffy’s death is no death at all — this leaves a permanent mark on Richard. Daffy is now the darker instincts of Richard — a representation of his dance with the unknown. He was probably open-minded and energetic as Richard, but Daffy is now the first emergence of darkness marked on the identity of Richard.
The conditions are set, there is no going back –Richard is going to find the beach. His first action is inviting Françoise and Etienne to join the search of the island. They are young and wide-eyed, is it possible to resist such an offer of fantasy when the opportunity arises? The conditions and the people are set — they book a trip to Koh Samui, a neighboring island, which is supposedly nearby the beach. Richard of course falls prey to the magnifying looks of Françoise, and does his best to impress her. The pursuit of pleasure means there are no boundaries, and his psyche is actively in attempt to achieve this total freedom. He desires Françoise and tries all American clichés without fear of embarrassment. In the journey, Richard also meets two other kids who are American and the same age he is, who have also heard about the fantasy of the beach. Before moving on towards the island, Richard gives the map of the beach to the two kids. The two kids are representative of the psychological naivetés that Richard can associate with his past. For this reason, he still gives them a chance to exist, by handing the map of the beach. This is the first time Richard tries to revive his past. In terms of his goal of delving into endless chaos, this is the first misstep by Richard.
It is time to get to the beach. It is a bit far away, but Etienne and Françoise convince Richard to swim there. They make it to the other end, and then are inside a weed farm. The natives of the beach are protecting the area with guns, so they go through an adventure before getting to the promise land. The way I interpreted what the natives symbolize is that they are the rational defense mechanism of the three characters. They know that the beach is an ego ideal; a fantasy that they inherently know does not exist in reality. It is very similar to giving in to addiction. The guardian natives are the rational principles that the human mind possesses. By passing that challenge, this is the abandonment of their rationally conservative wisdom. One of the members of the beach spots them as they discover the beach — they have successfully arrived. This is when things get interesting. There are 30 members in the colony before Richard, Etienne, and Françoise joined. Their cult leader is Sal — an attractive woman — the top prize. The pleasure island offers its hedonistic foot-in-the door with weed. The pursuit of pleasure, pure hedonism begins with the inhalation.
Richard adapts to the island very quickly, catching fish and being optimistic about everything that is going on. Devoid of a socially constructed ego, the members of the colony recognize his positive energy. Etienne and Françoise, however, do not escape their ordinary attitude, which is why Richard thrives and is instantly more recognizable than them. All the events that goes on — football, hunting fish, dancing, drugs — these are all constants during this part of the movie. What is truly the importance is the social dynamics of the trio that arrived to the island. Françoise seems discontent with Etienne as he realizes that Richard has more to offer. Pleasure Island is blind to philosophy; the only judgment that rules is the reward mechanism. For Françoise, Richard is the prize. The scene where Richard kills the shark as he was spearfishing further proves Richard’s hierarchical value to the colony. Françoise decides to break up with Etienne for Richard — and Richard achieves the reward toward his unfulfilled sexual desire.
Sal, the cult-leader, is also attracted to Richard at this point. This leads to jealousy by Sal’s boyfriend, who feels threatened by the potential of Richard. Every month, there is an annual grocery shopping in the neighboring island for their survival supplies. Sal decides to take Richard with him to take the groceries. As Richard steps back into civilization, he feels overwhelmed and disgusted by it. Being fully immersed and fulfilling all of his fantasies, the routinely lives inside a city — the compromise of a city is disgusting for him. Moderation is the enemy, not the king. His ideals became his reality, and reality is now a disgusting concept. Many critique this part as ‘resentment with consumerist culture’ but I think that would be a naïve conclusion of what Richard truly believes. That would be the excuse, the means towards the end, of his denial of reality in this section of the movie. Blame anything, as long as it helps you avoid reality. Sal finally satisfies her sexual attraction of Richard as they have sex. Richard, once starry eyed and in love with Françoise, abandons all moral principles of romance. This further proves that the insatiable fantasy of the pleasure island took full control over his soul. He created a new order, a new identity — the transition and character development in the movie was not clear, but he is no longer the young bright-eyed kid looking for adventure.
Richard now has a strong ego and no moral principles after reaching the peak of all his desires. Things start going downhill from here, as the archetype prevails. The philosophical reasoning of the events that follow is the archetype that was expressed by Dante’s Inferno. The rejection of sin and practice of pure pleasure is endless. Once the individual realizes the peak of all desires, the absurdity unveils itself, the pointlessness of holding no restriction or values. Perhaps that is why overdose is common for drug addicts — there is almost a search for meaning through getting extra dosage — it is almost impossible to pull yourself back up from the pit of absurdity, which is why by killing the ideal and overdosing, they are freeing themselves from the absurdity in no limitations. For Richard, it was too late.
The first event that follows his return to the island is a shark attack on two members of the colony. One dies right away, but the other one, Christo, misses a part of his leg. They cannot send Christo to a hospital since they need to remain a secret colony. The next couple of days, he suffers and shouts — and ruins ‘pleasure’ in the pleasure island. Their hedonist cycle is disrupted for the first time. They are faced with a moral conundrum: Protect Christo at the cost of pleasure or protect pleasure at the cost of human decency. How far are they willing to go for their search of pleasure? Are they willing to lose all basic empathy and sacrifice — have they lost all their moral principles?
They have. They decide to place Christo in a part of the island where they cannot see him and leave him to suffer to death. The worst part is, they neglect the responsibility of killing him by making him suffer. The only one that protests this move is Etienne, who remained the most stable throughout the movie. Françoise and Richard were not opposed to this move. After ditching Christo in the forest far away from their sight, they keep going on with their hedonistic pleasures. Richard lies to Françoise, claiming that nothing happened between him and Sal. His identity is completely integrated to the ideal of the island. Sal finds out that Richard gave the map to the two kids, who were seen near the island as they were attempting to join the colony. Once Sal finds out that Richard gave the map to the kids, she punishes Richard by kicking him out of the island until he makes sure the two kids leave the island and the map. After settling in and achieving everything he pursued in the fantasy island — this is his first true encounter with chaos since the beginning of the movie where he drank snake blood. As you recall, his statement after drinking the snake blood was ‘‘Enjoy the moment, but don’t overstay your welcome.’’ His past life came to haunt him. He was no longer in search of something new, and this new chaos that he was thrown into is the real emergence with chaos — uncontrolled, unplanned, unwelcomed.
The darker instincts and troubled thoughts of Richard emerge in this section. Richard is in pure isolation and has hallucinations about Daffy — the symbol of Richard’s dark instincts — the psychologically defeated psychopath. By devolving into a catatonic state, he is not accepting his true innocence and fear of chaos. He cannot come to terms with his true self, the one before visiting Thailand. He spends a week in the forest in total isolation — plotting to kill his two friends trying to cross to the island — since he could not give up the ego-ideal of the island, he suffers the opposite end, which is pure suffering and psychological delusion. Once his friends cross — the guardians of the island find the two kids before Richard. This is the scene where Richard finally awakes from his psychological nightmare — the guardians kill the two kids. This leads to an immediate awakening to Richard. He never wanted them dead in the first place. His darker instincts and visions of Daffy had nothing to do with his actual thoughts — he was the prisoner of his emotions and instincts.
His chains were broken immediately as he saw the two kids getting shot. Innocence, order, and monotony are an essential part of his life. The guardians were marching towards the beach in order to kick them out of the island. The sudden awakening led to Richard attempting to escape with Françoise and Etienne. The guardians come before they have a chance to leave. Sal is the most crucial character in this scene. She is offered a choice — either leave the island or kill Richard with a gun. Sal, being the person most attached to the ego-ideal of the island, decides to shoot Richard, but the bullet did not come out. All the members lose faith at this scene and abandon the island. Before leaving the island, the last action that Richard commits is killing Christo. This is perhaps the most touching and important scene in the movie.
By killing Christo, Richard snuffed the ego-ideal that led him to all the madness and fantasies of the island. Christo’s death is the death of the fantasy and the acceptance of responsibility. Richard did not kill Christo, Richard killed the ego ideal that prevented his true path towards freedom. The realization of freedom is not to feed the dreams, but to kill the dreams, in order to live the present moment in both its chaos and order. The synthesis of responsibility and satisfaction collides after Richard experiences the extremes of both ends.