This post includes a brief plot summary and an explanation about ending of the film Dorian Gray (2009). Beware of spoilers.
Directed by Oliver Parker, the fantasy drama is based on Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. The film stars Ben Barnes as Dorian Gray and Colin Firth as Lord Henry Wotton. Today’s post is solely based on the film, not the novel.
Dorian Gray (2009) – Plot Summary
A young man by the name of Dorian Gray arrives in London. He’s about to inherit a big fortune from his grandfather, who has recently passed away.
During a social gathering, Dorian meets a painter named Basil Hallward. Impressed by Dorian’s beauty, Basil offers to paint his portrait. Shortly after, Dorian becomes acquainted with Lord Henry Wotton. The aristocrat is a firm believer of hedonism and encourages Dorian to indulge himself in pleasure too.
After finishing the painting, Basil organizes a party to unveil Dorian’s portrait. Everyone in high society is curious about Dorian Gray, they are smitten with his good looks. The young man himself is in love with his own portrait because it captures his youth and beauty. During a casual conversation, Dorian jokes about trading his soul for eternal youth and beauty.
At a local theatre, Dorian meets a young actress named Sybil Vane. The two fall in love and Dorian proposes to her. However, Lord Henry warns Dorian about marriage and having children. After the conversation, Dorian decides to break up with Sybil. Unable to overcome the heartbreak, Sybil decides to end her life. The young woman’s brother (Jim) decides to avenge his sister’s death. After confronting Dorian, Jim almost chokes him to death, but a couple of Dorian’s guests intervene and save him. Shortly after, the police arrives and arrests Jim.
Dorian learns from Jim that Sybil is now dead, she was pregnant with his baby. Lord Henry brushes off the tragic incident and encourages Dorian to pursue pleasure above all things. The young man follows Lord Henry’s advice and gets over Sybil’s death rather quickly.
Time passes by, and Dorian notices that his painting is changing. The canvas is somehow absorbing all of Dorian’s excessive lifestyle. Although, Dorian looks perfectly fine on the outside, the painting is looking worse and worse. Meanwhile, Basil wants to borrow Dorian’s portrait for an exhibition, but he refuses. His reaction leaves Basil quite puzzled, as the painter cannot fathom why would Dorian deny such a simple request.
Basil insists and pressures Dorian to show him the portrait. In order to reassure the painter, Dorian takes Basil to his attic, the place where he hides the portrait from everyone. After looking at Dorian’s deformed portrait, Basil offers his help to break the curse. However, mortified that someone else knows his secret, Dorian kills Basil and then, he dumps his body into the river.
Soon, authorities find Basil’s body. However, Dorian gets away with murder: the police has no evidence that ties him to the crime. After attending Basil’s funeral, Dorian leaves London to travel the world. He invites Lord Henry to accompany him, but the aristocrat declines. In the following years, Dorian and Lord Henry exchange letters to keep in touch.
One day, Dorian suddenly returns to London and Lord Henry decides to throw him a welcome party. Although many years went by, Dorian hasn’t age one bit, which leaves everyone quite in awe. At the party, Dorian meets Emily (Lord Henry’s daughter), whom he later grows fond of.
While visiting Sybil’s grave, Dorian stumbles upon Jim. Dorian deceives Jim by pretending to be someone else and escapes death. However, a personal belonging gives out Dorian’s identity and Jim begins to stalk Dorian. After a while, he finds his sister’s former lover and shoots him. The bullets miss Dorian and Jim continues to chase the man in the London Underground. Then, a train passes by and hits Jim. Dorian reaches out to the dying man and expresses regret for his past actions. After apologizing, Dorian flees the scene.
After the horrific incident, Dorian seeks Emily for solace. The day after, Lord Henry finds Dorian and his daughter sleeping together in the living room. The sight leaves the aristocrat quite upset. Dorian reveals his intentions of marrying Emily, but Lord Henry doesn’t want him near his daughter. The tense conversation prompts Dorian to leave London, but his time, he wants to take Emily with him and she accepts.
While looking at some old photos, Lord Henry remembers that one time Dorian joked about trading his soul for eternal youth and beauty. To confirm his suspicions, Lord Henry goes looking for Basil’s portrait of Dorian. In order to do that, he organizes a farewell party for Dorian as a distraction. Meanwhile, Lord Henry sneaks out of his own house to break into Dorian’s house.
The aristocrat heads to the attic looking for the portrait. However, before he could unveil the painting, Dorian stops him. Emily calls Dorian and Lord Henry uncovers the portrait. After seeing the horrifying image of Dorian, the aristocrat decides to burn the painting. This causes a huge fire in the attic. Before leaving the house, Lord Henry locks the attic’s door leaving Dorian to his fate.
Emily rushes to the attic to save Dorian, but he refuses to leave. Meanwhile, he professes his love to Emily and then Lord Henry drags his daughter out of the house. To end the curse, Dorian stabs the painting, which causes him to age rapidly. Then, the fire engulfs the attic and consumes Dorian’s body.
After the incident, Lord Henry tries to reconcile with his daughter, but to no avail. Although, the fire took Dorian’s life away, the painting remains intact and regained its original form. While visiting Dorian’s portrait in his attic, Lord Henry smirks and notes that no one will look at him now. The films ends with the portrait showing Dorian’s eyes glowing.
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Dorian Gray (2009) – Ending Explained
The sinister glowing eyes at the end hints that Dorian’s soul is still alive. When Dorian stabbed the painting and became a really decrepit old man, that did not end his curse. Why? Although, his physical body perished in the fire, his soul didn’t.
There could many meanings to the ending, it’s up to the viewer to decide Dorian’s fate. Here’s one way of looking at the ending: Dorian traded his soul to keep his beauty and youth, right? In the end, the bargain still holds. Dorian is still young and beautiful… in the painting, which in turn, holds his soul captive.
Another way of looking at that haunting ending: there is no redemption for Dorian’s sins. That’s why his soul continues to live in the painting: that is his punishment. The irony is that Dorian Gray gets to live as a beautiful young man forever, but he’ll be alone. Just like Lord Henry said: who is going to look at him now?
In reality, Dorian Gray’s eternal beauty and youth is both a gift and curse. Had Dorian Gray made better life choices, his portrait would have remained beautiful. But who would want to hear such a boring story? A shameless man living a life full of vices and excess is a much more intriguing tale.
When Dorian Gray first arrived in London, he was young and naive. And then, he meet Lord Henry, the one who corrupted him. However, is that so? There are also other pertinent questions regarding Dorian’s ability to love someone: did he ever loved Sybil Vane (or Emily Wotton)? In addition, was he genuinely trying to be a better person more towards the end?
Did Lord Henry change Dorian Gray?
Lord Henry introduced Dorian to hedonism. The aristocrat encouraged Dorian to live life at its fullest and devote himself to pleasure. Now, Dorian Gray was a young / naive man when he met Lord Henry but he could have said no to the parties, the women and all the other distractions. But he didn’t. Lord Henry showed Dorian Gray a world that he was unfamiliar with, but it was Gray’s decision to stay in that world.
The same goes for Dorian’s portrait. What is a painting? It’s just a canvas with ink on it. Saying that Basil’s painting of Dorian changed the young man is not true. The portrait did not curse Gray, the man made a bargain. Dorian himself said that he wouldn’t mind to trade his soul for eternal youth and beauty. Somehow, an unknown entity granted his wish, but it came with a caveat: everything that Dorian does will impact the painting. In other words, if Dorian does bad things to others (or himself), the painting will suffer. Of course, no one informs Dorian of this little detail, so he had to learn it the hard way. Having said that, the painting did not change Dorian, it was the other way around. Think about the portrait as a mirror to Dorian’s soul.
Did Dorian Gray ever love Sybil Vane?
For a moment, Sybil Vane was the apple of Dorian’s eyes. However, Dorian Gray loves himself more than anyone else. That’s very evident when he made the pledge of trading his soul for eternal youth and beauty. Only someone who is extremely vain and self-centred would have made such bargain.
Dorian is not a man without a conscience, quite the opposite. The man knows that he did Sybil Vane wrong, that’s why he went to visit her grave. In addition, when Jim died, Dorian also lamented his death and apologized. Having said that, it’s not correct to call Dorian Gray a cruel / heartless person. Yes, it’s true that the man has done horrible things, but he never committed those acts with the sole purpose of hurting people. Dorian Gray does not thrive with other people’s suffering, he just doesn’t care.
Did Dorian Gray ever love Emily Wotton?
So were Dorian Gray’s feelings for Emily Wotton real? Towards the end, Dorian was finally trying to settle down and start a new life with Emily… But did his actions come from a genuine place? Yes and no. Dorian knows that he has taken the hedonistic lifestyle a bit too far, so the thought of falling in love with someone who is relatively “untainted” and start fresh sounded lovely to him. Having said that, Dorian was more in love with the idea of doing something good, such as caring for Emily than actually having real feelings for the woman. To put it simply, the man just didn’t want his portrait to get any nastier.
If Dorian really loved Emily, why did he kill her (in his nightmare)? Although it was just a dream, the thought of Emily finding his portrait in the attic really made Dorian upset. It’s very hard to change old habits. Everyone that comes across Dorian and his portrait will probably end up dead: just look at poor Basil, and Lord Henry would be next if Emily didn’t intervene. Also, Emily herself would probably end up dead if she kept snooping Dorian’s attic (for real).
Was Dorian Gray trying to become a better person?
When Lord Henry set the attic on fire, Emily was there and plead Dorian to give her the keys, which he refused. Instead of trying to escape death, Dorian professes his love for Emily and then he lets the fire consume his body. So why didn’t Dorian give Emily the keys, as he could have avoided death? Maybe Dorian didn’t want to be young and beautiful any more if that mean being a “slave” to the painting.
Loving Emily did not change Dorian’s portrait, as his feelings for her were not enough to change who he is. At this point, Dorian knows that there is nothing he can do to restore the painting back to its original state. Therefore, he decides to end his life. Remember, Dorian Gray is a very vain person… How could this man stand watching his own portrait (a mirror of his soul) getting increasingly appalling by the day? He couldn’t do it any more, and the fire was the perfect excuse to end it all.
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“The Picture of Dorian Gray” might be an old book, but it’s still a very thought-provocative piece of literary work. As I see it, eternal beauty and youth are kind of taboo subjects. Everybody wants it, but no one is actually willing to admit it.
Dorian Gray is the personification of youth and beauty, but all that came with a hefty cost. In the beginning, people are smitten by Dorian’s beauty. He gets away with a lot of things because of his good looks. However, as the years pass by, people start to frown upon Dorian’s never ageing face. Emily does not feel the same way because she had no recollection of who Dorian was before. Let’s not forget, Dorian is Lord Henry’s friend, which makes him old enough to be Emily’s father. However, like many, she can only see Dorian’s handsome face.
Does beauty and youth always go together? Not necessarily, one can have youth but not beauty. Nonetheless, both are privileges in their own ways. Beauty privilege is about getting special treatment from others just for being attractive looking. Meanwhile, youth privilege is about having time, a luxury that money cannot buy.
There is this recurring idea that if you possess both youth and beauty, then the world is going to be at your feet. That thought was valid back then, and nowadays. However, physical beauty and youth are not everything. Just take a look at Dorian Gray, you would think that he’s a lucky guy who never ages… That’s what he wants you to believe. Deep inside the man is rotten. His soul is so ugly that he cannot even bear to look at himself any more.
To be honest, if that kind of bargain was real many of us would probably take it. I mean who wants to grow old? One can accept the idea of growing old, but no one ever wants to be a senior citizen. A few hundreds of years ago, people only lived up until their 40s. However, technology is playing a huge role in our life span. People are living longer nowadays, and that has shifted our views about growing old. Having said that, would you rather live 50 years in a 25-year-old body, or live another 50 years in an ageing body? Honestly, I would choose the first one. Quality over quantity.
Last but least, I believe there are some slight differences between the book and the film but overall, the 2009 adaptation is a very pleasant watch. What I liked the most about the film is that it introduces doubt to Dorian Gray’s character, it makes you believe that maybe there is still a little bit of humanity in him.