The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby, directed by Baz Luhrmann

the-great-gatsby-poster1I haven’t read The Great Gatsby since high school, but I remember enjoying it then, and I love Baz Luhrmann’s cinematic style, so I was really looking forward to this movie. I enjoyed it as much as I thought I would; it was a fun time at the movies. The greatest attraction of the movie is probably the gorgeous, over-the-top party scenes. Fitzgerald wrote the best party scenes in literature, and Luhrmann films the best party scenes in cinema. It seems a perfect match. What I wouldn’t have given to have been an extra on that set!

The movie seemed more romantic than the book, focused more on Gatsby’s longing for the life he could have had with Daisy than on his corruption or the Buchanons’ dissipation or Nick Caraway’s lost innocence in witnessing their drama. The tea party scene where Gatsby sees Daisy alone for the first time is played like a romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant. Gatsby is foppish and clumsy out of adorable nervousness, and it’s played for laughs. Leonardo DiCaprio was surely made for this role. He looked the part perfectly, from his monogram ring to his shiny shoes. My favorite scene of his might have been his innocent, boyish, but sadly deluded insistence that Daisy will call. Carrie Mulligan did nothing to alter the feeling I had from the book that Daisy was utterly unworthy of Gatsby’s devotion, that she is a vapid cipher of a character. I’m not sure what she could have done about this as an actress, though, as giving Daisy depth would have necessitated a lot more revision and change to the story itself.

The film created a frame in which Nick Caraway was writing about Gatsby to explain him to a psychiatrist. This created a literary feel to the movie through words written and typed and voiced over. I liked the literariness of it, but I always wonder about making a character, even and perhaps especially a first-person narrator, into an author figure. Fitzgerald is not Nick Caraway, and Nick is not Fitzgerald, and it seems a little misleading to imply otherwise, especially when you consider that a large percentage of the audience is likely to believe it. My only other complaint about the movie might be that it beats you over the head with symbolism even more than the book does, and that’s saying something. We could have understood the green light without the third explanation, thanks.

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