Let me start off by saying this: sometimes, our perilously high hopes and dangerous, reaching desires can do us more harm than good. And sometimes, our perilously low expectations can yield pleasant surprises.
I was so utterly convinced that I was going to hate 2013’s The Great Gatsby, and yet I actually found myself enjoying Baz Luhrmann’s spectacle of sparkles and color, a roaring circus of booze and excess. Once you allow yourself to get swept up in the fast-paced, jazzy/hip-hop whirl of parties and pretentiousness, it’s an enjoyable, visually overwhelming film, based on the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel that will always outmatch any adaptation.
If you’re unfamiliar with Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age novel, the basic premise is that Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mysterious, wealthy man shrouded in a carefully calculated, respectable persona, seeks to reclaim his lost love, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), a wealthy, married woman whose “voice is full of money”. More than that, though, it’s Fitzgerald’s reflection on American society, wealth and recklessness and excess; a glittering facade covering something shallow and ugly.
Luhrmann definitely made use of the symbols (such as the green light) woven throughout The Great Gatsby, though without much subtlety, and pretty much adhered the plot and overarching the themes of the novel. Arguably, the most rebellious felony he committed against the source material was the use of a hip-hop/pop soundtrack against the backdrop of the Jazz Age, which I actually thought worked pretty well. The music was good–modern with a jazzy twist, laced with bits of recognizable 20s dance grooves–and fit in with the ridiculousness of the whole thing. My mom made an interesting argument for the anachronistic soundtrack: jazz music isn’t new to us. In the 1920s, everything was shining and glimmering and fast-paced and new, and jazz music characterized that, but, in today’s context, jazz music is, to some, kind of a relic. It isn’t exciting or scandalous to us. The music of the film fit in with the feeling of raw excitement, and made those crazy Gatsby parties seem even crazier.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as Gatsby was certainly praiseworthy, with his pretentious “old sport”s and outward appearance of coolness broken by those moments of shaking nerves and bursting temper. Tobey Maguire was not particularly remarkable as Nick Carraway. My favorite performance came from Joel Edgerton’s rendering of Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s brutish, snobbish husband. He was really good.
There’s something to be said for a movie that can make you cry, no matter how or why. I got a little bit misty-eyed over the tragic end, yeah, but I found myself crying–I mean really, actually shedding tears–at the shirts scene. The part in the book where Gatsby brings Daisy to his opulent mansion is pretty sad, because you can see that he’s done all of this for a dream, an illusion of her. He has accumulated a mass of things and cultivated an attitude of respectability, always staring at that green light across the bay, in sight but out of reach. Naively, he believes that he can reclaim the past, if only he buys enough things. He’s a collector of things–things that he thinks will impress Daisy–and the thing he wants to collect most is Daisy herself, a sparkly thing who likes sparkly things. Daisy says, “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts before.”
Now in that euphoric, post-movie rush, I can say that I definitely enjoyed the film. Did I love it? Nah. Did it leave a great impact? I really don’t think so. But it was an enjoyable watch, and exceeded the expectations I had that were born of a dislike for Luhrmann’s flashy, overwhelming style. I have to say that I thought that style worked here. You could argue that the film lacked depth, but I still enjoyed it, and don’t regret going to see it. I would argue that Luhrmann’s film does the novel justice more than the stiff 1974 adaptation with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. Luhrmann’s Gatsby is marked by excess and perhaps self-indulgence, but, like I said, I didn’t particularly dislike it. Had I seen it in 3D, though, I think I would be throwing up right now. Don’t do it.
Crackling with excitement and summer heat, The Great Gatsby is dizzying, sometimes disorienting and tacky, and actually pretty humorous. You’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting a love story (that’s not what this is and I hope you know that), and even more disappointed if you expect it to stand up to Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. As a movie to venture out to see on the weekend, I liked it.
The film swirls to its dramatic close and concludes with some of my favorite lines from literature:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning – So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.