Directed by Mary Harron, ‘Daliland’ is a biographical drama now streaming on Hulu. Written by John Walsh, the screenplay follows a few years from the life of the iconic surrealist Salvador Dali. It looks through the eyes of a young gallery assistant from New York. 

The film had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival and was later theatrically released in the USA. It stars Ben Kingsley in the central role of Salvador Dali and Barbar Sukowa in the role of his wife, Gala. Christopher Briney becomes our eyes and ears into the miraculous world of idiosyncratic artistic genius. Besides them, it stars Rupert Graves, Alexander Beyer, Andreja Pejić, Suki Waterhouse, and Ezra Miller.

Spoilers ahead.

Daliland (2023) True Story Explained: Is Daliland based on a true story? 

Yes. Daliland is based on the true story of the legendary surrealist painter Salvador Dali. Told through the eyes of young gallery assistant James, it follows a specific part of Dali’s life. The film primarily shows the mystique of the artist’s fascinating inner circle, his muse Amanda Lear, and his turbulent marriage to his wife Gala. Since many of these details are drawn from one or the other perspective, there might be slight deviations from the truth. Besides, Dali himself was known to have cretinized people. Nevertheless, it gives a close-to-truth account and an enjoyable look into Dali’s surreal world. Please note that the synopsis is just what the film shows to us and may be slightly different from what actually happened.

Daliland (2023) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis: What is Daliland about?

Ben Kingsley plays Salvador Dalí in Daliland (2023)
Ben Kingsley plays Salvador Dalí in Daliland (2023)

Daliland follows the last few years in the life of Salvador Dali (Ben Kingsley). Set in the 1970s in New York and Spain, we see it through the eyes of James Linton (Christopher Briney) – a young assistant at Dufresne Gallery in New York. The film begins with a 1950s game show broadcast, where contestants are asked to guess the person speaking with them. This person is Salvador Dali. No matter what they ask, he answers plainly in yes/no. It amuses the guests and the audience for a while. This flashback was a part of a news broadcast talking about Dali’s accident in 1985. Someone shot Dali and left him severely injured.

Linton’s Entrance into Dali’s Life

In 1975, Linton was appointed to go to the St Regis Hotel to hand over a parcel to Salvador Dali’s wife – Gala (Barbara Sukowa), related to an upcoming exhibition. This hotel was Dali’s home in New York for over 20 years. While Dali was a world-renowned artist, Linton dropped out of his art school education because he realized – he was not an artist; he just loved art. A man of such clarity about his skills and understanding entered the blissfully strange world of Dali at his hotel residence. That’s where he met people from Dali’s inner circle – from Gala to Ginesta/Lucy (Suki Waterhouse), from Dali’s secretory Peter Moore (Rupert Graves) to a series of idiosyncratic artists. 

Over the period, Gala sensed Linton’s highly perceptive interest in her husband’s unconventional world. That’s how Linton gained an entry into Dali’s inner circle. Linton went around with Lucy and learned about Dali’s trans muse, Amanda Lear (Andreja Pejić). Lucy made Linton realize that he, too, served some purpose in Dali’s life, which is why Dali allowed him to be a part of his circle. Meanwhile, Linton noticed how Dali had a few dozen signatures. He thought it was not just to cretinize the world but to show them that nothing is what it seems, i.e., the idea behind surrealism. 

Later, when Linton showed a book filled with Dali’s signatures to Dali, the artist said that he had the face of an angel. He also named Linton – ‘San Sebastian.’ Linton listened to Dali’s strange words with absolute awe. That’s when Dali borrowed Linton from the gallery manager Christoffe (Alexander Beyer) as his assistant. 

Linton’s Fascinating Journey With Dali

Christoffe warned Linton about Dali’s reputation and tried to make him lose interest in the offer. But he eventually agreed to let Linton go in exchange for ensuring Dali creates enough artwork before their upcoming exhibition. Even though Gala tried to lure him, Linton stayed invested solely in Salvador’s art. Slowly, Linton learned about the chaotic but lovely relationship between Salvador and Gala. He learned how young Salvador noticed young Gala (Avital Lvova) at a beach and got instantly memorized. Luis Bunuel and René Magritte were also present on this trip. That is where Salvador accepted his deep interest in Gala. 

After realizing Linton’s deep interest in his work and/or life, Dali invited him to the Prince and Pauper’s tea, aka a gathering of people Dali admired or held dear. That night, Linton learned about Gala’s lovers. She chose them for her pleasure while Salvador galivanted around. Linton, who questioned his purpose in this inner circle, soon got close to Lucy. After that eventful night, Linton woke up to learn that Gala gave her singer boyfriend, Jeff Fenholt, the money meant to pay for Dali’s hotel stay for a month. That’s why Linton was asked to take a briefcase to a person named Desmond Carter and return it with money. 

The Chaos in the World

At Desmond’s gallery, Linton managed to make a prospective buyer interested in buying a painting. Unlike the usual sales tactics, he shared his knowledge with genuine interest – which this buyer admired. Later on, Dali made some strange requests for his party from him. Christoffe agreed to pay for those expenses because Dali’s paintings sold for high prices. Eventually, at the party, Dali staged a grand entry for himself with his muse. Meanwhile, Gala stayed with her boyfriend at his studio recording. Later that night, while Linton joined Lucy and another man to have sex, Dali watched it from a distance and sought gratification. 

The next day, Linton learned that Dali never had sex, even though almost all his paintings were about sex. Lucy told him that Salvador and Gala only once had sex. While the parties continued, the work remained stagnant. So, Gala came into Salvador’s room and shouted at him, at Linton & at Captain Moore. Instead of being upset, Dali admired the way she maintained her outburst. Still, he knew he had to get some work done. So, he made naked women paint their bodies in one or the other way. He used the prints as starting points for his paintings. The eventual exhibition brought some crowd to the gallery. However, the conflicts between Gala and Salvador did not end. 

Dali & Linton

After Dali’s New York exhibition, the newspapers mentioned that the critical press ignored it because of their dismay at his antics. Since the critics did not take Dali’s work seriously and none of his paintings got sold, Christoffe fired Linton – because he believed Linton did not do his job right. When Linton returned to Dali, the artist said that he was planning to move to Portlligat, Spain. Linton got worried for his future, which he believed to be with Dali. But thanks to Captain Moore’s help, he managed to continue to be Dali’s acolyte. 

The move did not help Dali as he probably expected. Others had to take care of Dali’s moodiness and paranoia. Besides New York, even the Paris gallerists stopped taking Dali or his surrealism seriously. Dali also struggled to make any paintings after that. Gala hoped he go work with Walt Disney since it would at least keep him productive and gain him the respect he deserved. Instead, she had to stay being Dali’s caretaker. Meanwhile, during his conversation with Linton, Dali said that he and Gala ‘fused together’ on the same beach. That’s when Gala deeply admired Dali’s painting, which made him emotional. 

Daliland (2023) Movie Ending Explained: What happened during Linton’s last visit with Dali?

Christopher Briney in Daliland 2023
Christopher Briney in Daliland 2023

Dali signed off the papers before his works got printed upon them. Captain Moore justified this practice by stating that Dali is the most popular artist in the world. Soon after, Amanda arrived in Spain to give Dali some company. She told Linton how both Salvador and Gala want to feel young – which is why they sought young lovers. On a night together on the beach, Dali lost his balance while narrating the history behind his work. It made him realize and accept his mortality. Coincidently, this was the same beach where he saved Gala from falling down. 

Over the period, Linton learned the bad aspects of how Dali’s paintings were sold, how Gala managed to earn money out of lithographs, and how cheap prints were being made of Dali’s work. Because of Dali’s never-ending financial issues, Captain Moore worries that Dali may die poor. Later, Linton learned that Gala gave one of Dali’s paintings to Jeff. He told Dali, hoping to protect him. Instead, Dali got upset. He confronted Gala about helping Jeff with money by selling off his paintings. In the heat of the moment, he tried to attack her, and she fell down the stairs. Afterward, since Linton ratted her out, she fired him. 

Fast forward to 1985, we see Linton return to meet Dali after his accident. That’s when he met Amanda again. She was surprised to know that Linton chose to run a gallery – after all that happened in his life with Dali. Soon after, Linton got a chance to meet Dali in person, who called him – San Sebastian. Linton felt like Dali still remembered him. But soon after, Linton learned that Dali called many young men by that name over the years. So, it diminished his sense of importance in Dali’s life. Alas, he gifted the book of Dali’s signatures – the one he crafted during one of their early visits – the one when Dali brought him inside his circle. 

Daliland (2023) External Links: Rotten Tomatoes
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Barbara Sukowa, Ezra Miller, Christopher Briney, Rupert Graves

Where to watch Daliland (2023)

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