It seems impossible to review The Great Gatsby (2013, Baz Luhrmann) without doing two things:
1. Reviewing the book in tandem with the movie
2. Taking Luhrmann's directing style strongly into consideration.
When I heard they were making this movie, I decided that I needed to read the book prior to seeing the movie; for whatever reason, in high school I somehow missed reading this book. It's a very quick read at only around 120 pages and I finished it in less than two hours.
In summation, the novel details a summer that Nick Carraway, our protagonist, spends in New York and the surrounding area. Set in the Roaring Twenties just after prohibition is lifted, we are given a glimpse into what life was like for the rich and entitled, with their mistresses, their parties and their political connections.
Even though the novel is narrated through Nick, it focuses on the mysterious and elusive Jay Gatsby, who throws massive soirees, yet never appears for them. Rumours swirl around that he is related to the Kaiser, that he smuggled liquor, that he was from a well-to-do family... No one seemed to know the essential Gatsby, the man behind the mask.
Leo DiCaprio does a fantastic job of playing Gatsby. He smiles and repeatedly calls everyone "old sport", until it almost becomes obnoxious.
In some ways, DiCaprio fleshes out Gatsby much more than the book does, which honestly isn't saying much. We quickly learn that Gatsby has a past with Nick's cousin Daisy and he wishes to win back Daisy's heart.
This is where things get idiotic.
Throughout the novel AND movie, we are shown the open and carefree life style and manners the characters display. Neighbours drop in on each other for visits and to have a spot of tea and a chat. Why on EARTH did Gatsby have to pursue such a round about way of contacting Daisy...through Nick? He could have marched over to her house, knocked on her door and have been profoundly welcomes as the great Gatsby.
So that point always irritated me. He would stand longingly at the end of his dock and stare at the green ocean buoy that blinked in front of her mansion.
It's all very strange and ridiculous. Obviously it's supposed to be haunting and sad, but I was struck by how pathetic the situation was.
I won't go into details about the book's plot, but I will say that generally it is very depressing.
Luhrmann does a wonderful job with his typically heavy-handed, over-the-top, fancy flowery touch. The sets are incredible and the costumes are beautiful. We truly get a glimpse into what life was like for the rich in those days, such a below--Daisy's mansion, with her husband playing polo on the front lawn:
But not only do we get a look into the lives of the rich...we also see what life is like for the poor labourers who ultimately built the city of New York. Notice the juxtaposition between Gatsby's exorbitantly detailed (and clearly expensive) car and the run down auto shop and mines around it.
It is a truly dismal life for the underprivileged at that time.
From the dusty dirty Valley of Ashes...to Gatsby's massive parties, we are treated to such diverse sights and sounds.
When you peel away the pomp and swag around Gatsby though, what you're left with is a man in love with a woman, desperately seeking to make contact and be with her.
As you watch the two stars collide, you realize that their stories will not end well for them.
And this is where the phrase I used "frailty thy name is women" comes in.
Did Fitzgerald hate women or was he portraying the 20s woman truthfully? Of course, it's only a fictional story, but one has to wonder at the characters he spun. You have the dirty mistress of Daisy's husband Tom, Myrtle, who plans on leaving her husband for a married man.
Then you have Daisy herself, the strongest female character, who agrees to leave her husband Tom for Gatsby, the "love of her life". However, in one afternoon, in a matter of literally two or three hours, she changes her mind and accepts her life bound to a cheating adulterer.
It's absurd and sad that the only strong and morally sound character is Jordan Baker, and she plays a minute role compared to the other women.
In no way am I die-hard feminist, but this movie *story. really* did not sit right with me. Gatsby is this amazing man who makes his way from being poor and unknown, to someone who has a claim in life, but his eyes and heart are completely taken over by a wishy-washy woman who considers social status to be more important than love.
As Gatsby spins his web, his intricate plans, you can't help but have pity for him. Even though he has everything materially speaking that he could want, you feel that sense of loneliness and longing. Here is a man who will never be happy, regardless of what possessions he has or whomever he woos.
I suppose, in the end, what I felt was that Daisy did not deserve Gatsby's undying love, but then again...so few of us do deserve that. As the credits rolled, I felt a sense of sadness and loss, which means it most certainly was a Baz Luhrmann movie.
"You cannot repeat the past" is the mantra of this movie. What Gatsby may represent is actually our occasional desire to re-play something great that once happened in our lives. The truth remains though: what's done is done. The words we have said, the people we have met and loved, the moments we have shared with each other... The strongest message from The Great Gatsby is that we only have one life and one chance to live it! Seize it and live it! Don't be like Gatsby, waiting his whole life for it to truly start.
I gave the movie 7.5/10. Even though it was wonderfully filmed and poignant, the entire tone and message was lacking. This wasn't Luhrmann's fault though... As one of our surgeons expressed so strongly and succinctly: "THAT BOOK IS CRAP!"