I find it surprising that Luhrmann’s interpretation of The Great Gatsby is being overwhelmed by a copious amount of negative reviews, claiming that the movie is shallow, superficial, and focused not on Gatsby but rather the lucrative and excessive party scenes.I didn’t predict that my review that I was so excited to write would turn into more of a defense against the movie. First, let me start by saying that I loved the movie, from the casting, direction, costumes, music (how great was that?), to the sets. However, I do understand the counter-argument. While there is a majority of the film that focuses on the flamboyant party scenes at Gatsby’s, I feel it encompasses the essence of the book, the description of the 1920s and how Gatsby existed not as a person per se, but as an idea. For example this description is through the narrator Nick Carraway before he has come in personal contact with Gatsby; “There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars” (Fitzgerald 39). This objective, unbiased, and beautifully written observation of Gatsby’s events gives a small insight to how grand these parties were, how many people attended, and how the alcohol flowed constantly. The party scenes in the movie exemplify the context of the book, especially the lure and seduction of these parties, figuring out which rumors about Gatsby were true, and the excess of alcohol (seeing as it was during prohibition, more reason to drink and party don’t you think?). So, as defense to the interpretation of the movie, I do acknowledge that there is a large presence of party scenes, but I believe they go beyond the ‘shallow’ description they are receiving- it nicely portrays the scale of excess and consequentially, the moral, representing how one can be consumed by this. Also, I think it greatly reflects the hollowness of the nouveau-riche and the surfaced morals of 1920’s society.
Now, I would like to continue to discuss the movie itself, rather than it’s interpretation of the book. I don’t think I can summarize how excited I was to see this film and how satisfied and energetic I was about it when I walked out of the theater. I feel like the movie industry is depending on re-making old series, but I don’t think I will ever get tired of them adopting and attempting to transform the media of literature to film. This adaptation while dire in some cases, proves to be a worthwhile and often, rewarding move. Who didn’t have to read The Great Gatsby in high school? And for those who weren’t exposed to it, they definitely have the motive to go to any bookstore and pick up one of the classic American novels. Exposing youth to rich literature is one of the most exciting things about adaptive the novel to film- while, there are different interpretations of the book and how that translates to cinema, getting someone’s work to a visualized experience opens up new opportunities for the novel itself and the author. I know my little sister (15 yrs old) will be reading The Great Gatsby soon, and now, will be much more excited and motivated to read and analyze the context, to go past the movie, but have it serve as a source of imagination and inspiration. I think once I walked out of that movie theater, I felt like it had transformed the novel into both a representation of the book, of the morals, but made it modern at the same time, and therefore, taking on a new persona.The high intensity of the film’s energy was surprising but at the same time, what I was so looking forward to.
How can one simply praise the dynamic cast of this movie enough: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Tobey Macguire, Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Debicki and the remaining supporting characters, the huge amount of extras, the cast and the crew. What a collaboration. It was visually stunning to be sure, but the acting was not distant nor dated, it was modern, vulnerable, illuminating. For the most part, the actors seemed to embody the persona of their characters and roles just as I had imagined when reading. I feel like their character development was not too surface or plain, but rather more subtle. For example, Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Jay Gatsby showed his childhood, his struggle to the top, and slowly builded on the image of the ‘Great’ Gatsby. I felt like there was a storm beneath the surface, slowly turning, him trying to control himself and conform to the social expectations. His character was exposed to the most vulnerable points with Daisy; their first encounter after his ‘transformation’ was not only comedic and awkward as it should have been, but shed light on his vulnerability and human qualities. He didn’t just exist as this perpetuating idea as the ‘Great’ Gatsby, but rather a man in love, dedicating his life and success for the object of his affections. His constant struggle with optimism and some would say hopeless romanticism creates a genuine empathy for his character.
I feel as though the narration through Tobey McGuire’s Nick Carraway felt true to the book as well. His character didn’t need to develop in such a way as others, because more than anything, I feel that he is more representative- he could have been anyone (not actor-wise, but that his general characteristics)- does anyone else feel that his character is more of a general perspective- representing anyone that could have been consumed by the seduction of the parties, the drama, the moral inflictions of his friend. He truly is disguised with the morals of Tom Buchanan when he discovers that he has a mistress, the betrayal against his cousin, as well as disturbed and conflicted by the idea of Daisy’s relationship with Gatsby. This moral debate is truly genuine, understandably stuck in between obligations and loyalties and at a lost of what to do.
Daisy. She is a more complex being, seemingly narcissistic and conceited. However, I think Carey Mulligan’s acting really exposed her as a girl, scared by change, easily consumed by emotions. I think one of my favorite moments with Carey’s acting was her line about being a girl; “I hope she’ll be a fool–that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool…” It really expands on her role in society, as a woman, a female and what it means. While she and her husband are seemingly shallow, Daisy lacks control and is unhappy are her awareness of her gender expectations- I think she is unable to leave her husband for Gatsby because she needs stability, because she is able to move on with her life- leaving her past, and especially Gatsby behind.
Overall, this movie is spectacular. With the addition of the soundtrack, I felt like it really personified the energy of the movie, the scenes, and the settings of the 1920s, with a very modern twist. I saw this movie with a few friends, and even those that had low expectations and even disliked Fitzgerald’s novel (for reasons I cannot comprehend), they left with an unmistakable energy, excitement, and even a motive to re-read the original literature. I approved of the interpretation, the actors, and especially the experience, which implies my belief about its current reviews- I disagree with them. This movie a definitely a must-see, and if you haven’t read the novel before- go read it. Not only is the novel a high-school must, its a quick and short read, and encompasses frivolous morals of the 1920s and the ever-present American dream.