The movie, "Dorian Gray" is based on the novelette "Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde. Both movie and book fall into the literary category known as allegory -- a story which is an analogy for a life process and usually has some sort of moral. It can also be classified as "anti-transcendentalist" or even "Gothic," types of literature that focus on man's humanity, his moral faults and his ability to indulge in extreme depravity.
Hints of the Past
Even in the first scenes of the movie, we are aware that there is something odd about Dorian. At first glance, he is an insouciant young man unfamiliar with city ways who has come into town to make his way. Yet, when he is besieged by beggar children and his pocket is picked, he seems to notice the miscreant yet fails to apprehend him. Although he keeps feeling in his pocket, he seems undisturbed by the loss of whatever was there. As the movie progresses we get frequent flashback glimpses of Dorian as an abused child.
Introduced to Society
Dorian is met, taken to his home. In becoming acquainted with the city, he meets Basil Hallward, who wishes to paint his portrait -- a painting that is greatly admired upon its unveiling. Dorian attends a party with the artist. The host of the party, Lord Henry Wotton, projects himself as a cynical man of the world. He introduces Dorian to Turkish cigarettes (which in that era often contained opium) and gin. He remarks that the portrait will remain forever young, but Dorian will age. He asks if anyone would make a pact with the devil to maintain their youthful vigor. Dorian replies that he certainly would.
The Plot Thickens
Dorian meets, and is enchanted by, Sybil, young actress whom he promises to marry. We quickly learn that marriage to this young woman would ruin his social standing. Lord Henry takes Dorian to a brothel where he is introduced to opium and a cluster of prostitutes.The following morning, Dorian renounces Sybil, refusing to marry her. She flings herself into the river, because she is pregnant. Dorian is challenged by her brother, who is arrested and taken away. Dorian looks at the picture, and it seems to be weeping blood. At first he seems grief-stricken but the following morning, Dorian is completely indifferent to her fate. This begins a pattern in which Dorian commits almost every depravity possible, yet remains youthful, handsome and indifferent; meanwhile the portrait shows every depravity, excess and sin that Dorian commits.
Sacrifices to the Portrait
Dorian continues upon his destructive path. He murders a friend, has a relationship with the artist, then murders him. At each event, we see his personal fear and revulsion for his actions, yet it seems as if the portrait demands progressively more heinous acts. Dorian flees the area in a effort to run away from the picture. After a prolonged absence, Dorian returns to meet Lord Henry's daughter. She is quite taken with Dorian, and Dorian is in love with her. Knowing Dorian, Lord Henry discovers that he is not cynical at all where his child is concerned. In an intense final scene, Dorian stabs the portrait and takes on all the evidence of age and depravity that should have been his in the first place. The portrait becomes merely a picture, and Dorian perishes.
The movie contains many levels of meaning. First, we see the journey of an individual who has been tempted and fallen into bad ways. We see his tempter realize that his efforts at creating a cynical monster have succeeded beyond his dreams and it may devour that which is dearest to him. Third, we see the redeeming value of informed innocence when the girl knowingly gives herself to Dorian after hearing his story from his own lips. Finally, we catch a glimpse of society in pre-war Europe, where at the top are the titled elite who use the working class -- personified by the artist and the actress -- as they will and a seamy underbelly of the city that includes beggars, pickpockets, prostitutes and opium dens.