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The Great Gatsby

Over the top visual decadence-check, anachronistic music-check…ok we are clearly in the grip of a Baz Luhrmann film. This time it is his opulent take on The Great Gatsby, in 3D no less. I have to preface this review with an embarrassing admission: I don’t recall ever reading the book. While this is something I hope to rectify at some point, I will obviously not be commenting on how the film does or does not stray from the novel.

Luhrman’s exuberant style is almost a character in the film, and one that feels right at home with the style-over-substance obsessed folks populating Gatsby’s world. A condemnation of the pursuit of wealth as its own end, Gatsby shows the wealthy existence as listless, dull, and directionless. Carey Mulligan as Daisy wanders aimlessly in a world-weary manner through her life while husband Tom (Joel Edgerton) seeks solace in sports and the company of other women. Extremely wealthy Jay Gatsby has purposely purchased an enormous mansion across the water from them, throwing decadent parties in the hopes Daisy ( whom he had fallen in love with five years prior but whom he had lost while serving in the war, and for fear of not being wealthy enough for her) will come. Gatsby’s new neighbor is Nick, a struggling writer who has abandoned his writing to make a living in the bond market, and who also happens to be Daisy’s cousin. Jay soon befriends his struggling neighbor, wooing him with parties and plane rides before gaining the courage to ask Nick to invite Daisy to tea.

Gatsby is singular in his goal of winning back the lost love of Daisy. All the lengths he goes to in obtaining wealth and  material goods are all in an effort to bring Daisy back into his life. One of the film’s central mysteries is how Gatsby attained his wealth. The truth reveals much about Gatsby’s win at any cost nature.

However, in my view, it is not Daisy per se that he really wants, but rather the dream of the unattainable. Gatsby often spends time gazing at the green light across the water at the end of the dock at Daisy’s home. A siren beckoning him to that which he cannot have. And yet he seems at his best with the allure of the light in the distance. Once he has Daisy’s affection, and does not have an unattainable goal, he seems to lose something, and must again rekindle that light across the bay. He now wants Daisy to publicly rescind her love for Tom and announce her unending love for Jay. And with each step he moves closer to his goal, he needs to push that goal back further, so that the light is always there for him. Gatsby cannot live in the present, he is always longing for an unattainable future.

Nick is a constant voyeur, never fully engaging, perfectly happy to soak in others experiences at the expense of having any of his own. Pulled by Tom, manipulated by Jay, he is a puppet. Perhaps this speaks to the nature of his role as writer, a sponge for other’s experiences so he can write about them. Although he has seemingly abandoned this passion in the quest for the almighty dollar,  he film is bookended by Nick telling his tale to a therapist, and when he is unable to continue the therapist prompts him to write, forging Nick’s position as narrator.

The film itself is a visual marvel, the opulence oozing off the screen, quite literally with some choice use of 3D. The use of modern music, particularly modern rap, fits the themes with its glorification of wealth and material gain. Tobey McGuire’s Nick comes across as likable but in need of his own drive, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby is amazingly aloof at times, incredibly charming others, and hopelessly lost throughout. In fact, with all its over the top parties and decadence, the film leaves a lingering feeling of melancholy after spending time with such damaged people. For truly there is not one character in the film that is not hopelessly damaged in some way.

Gatsby is not a perfect film, there are areas that could be tightened up, and Luhrman certainly indulges his fetish for over the top grandeur. But these flaws also work in the context of the themes at play here, and also make for a film that is an interesting mix of stylish bombast and thoughtful introspection. Between this and Iron Man 3, the summer of 2013 slate  is off to a good start.


5 responses to “The Great Gatsby

  1. Pingback: The Great Gatsby – Review |

  2. John E. Five ⋅

    Leonardo keeps getting these types of roles, even the greats like Pacini, Deniro etc occasionally stepped outside of their box to do a Buddy cop or comedy film. He was fun in Django!

  3. Pingback: The Great Gatsby – Review | FilmFixx

  4. Definitely a visual feast and a greater epic then the book, but like its literary counterpart, the movie seems to want to expound upon the emptiness of the jazz age rich and celebrate their adventures at the same time, which I find irritating in a make up your mind kind of way.

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