Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby film review.


Last night I took myself to the Humber Cinema to watch Baz Luhrmann’s take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s style is what I came to love about the book. He had a way of writing perfect sentences.

“They were sitting at either end of the couch, looking at each other as if some question had been asked, or was in the air, and every vestige of embarrassment was gone. Daisy’s face was smeared with her handkerchief before a mirror. But there was a change in Gatsby that was simply confounding. He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room.”

Or my favourite line:

“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”

Fitzgerald’s novel portrayed a world full of extravagance, and all that jazz,  but one that lacked substance and purpose. The only deep jewel worthy of noting in it, according to the narrator Nick Carraway, was Gatsby, a self-made man who’s greatest trait was his faith and hope in a dream; to be with his one true love, Daisy.

I hate love stories like this. I disliked Romeo and Juliet. I love how Hamlet how wrote it and the witty characters around the actual story itself, but I don’t understand infatuation as the basis for a tragic love story. In fact, it isn’t a tragic love story: it’s a story of fools who failed the Darwin test. Therefore, when I say that The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels, it’s because it is one of the greatest visceral portrayals by a writer of a story of privileged fools who failed at reason.

Baz Luhrmann did an awesome job of this in his version of Romeo and Juliet. Clair Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio were the Teen Beat epitome of cool when they were cast in it. I consider it one of Luhrmann’s best films because in the end of it Romeo and Juliet could be seen for what they were: young children who sadly got caught up in the tangles of misunderstanding and chance. I wanted to yell at the screen, “No!” and cried pitifully as if they were my own kids. All the pomp and circumstance in it propelled and supported the story.

In The Great Gatsby, DiCaprio does an impressive job as a mature and independent Romeo as Gatsby. He’s all fire and drive, which I think he brings to most of his roles these days. Carey Mulligan embodies Daisy like a well-fitted glove. Daisy is an empty vessel and her passions are sapped from the life others or people around her. As her body is adorned with the the jewels and flash of the times, Mulligan, is also visually, a great feast upon the eyes. However, maybe it’s because I’ve enjoyed seeing Mulligan play such strong characters in the past that every so often I’d find it out of place to find something genuinely human about her portrayal as Daisy, or may be it’s because she’s just that good of an actress.

Tobey Maguire does a good job of playing our eyes in the story as Nick Carraway: goofy, wet at the ears, and full of promise, but no direction. I just never understood the subtle nuances to his dopey character in the movie. Even his alcoholic writer trope was a little too laughable for me to take seriously, which is odd considering I totally empathized with him in the novel.

This movie is lush and wonderful to look at though. The ambrosial Gatsby parties are full of champagne, streamers, fireworks, and colour. The zooming camera shots take you falling over and flying up among the skyscrapers in a bustling city. The camera dances around art deco sets and in and out of New York City in the roaring 20s and pauses for just a few moments among the still life, but potboiler of industry. I expected nothing less from Luhrmann’s visuals. I found the soundtrack (executively produced by Jay-Z) to be rather imposing and it didn’t suit the movie at all. Was Luhrmann trying to jarr us with this or was it meant to add a statement about modern life? With the resurgence of ragtime and 20s music, due to this movie and videogames like Bioshock, you’d think it would have been more suited to modern adaptations of popular songs from Fitzgerald’s time.

I think Luhrmann made The Great Gatsby: an adaptation of the Jack Clayton version (the sets were almost exactly the same, only with a bigger budget) as a stunning music video with little music.He failed at what I view The Great Gatsby at being: a literary feast of  a love story congruent to the empty truth in the American Dream.  I wasn’t within and without, nor was I simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life. I was watching and simultaneously waiting to be given something besides the few minutes of drama in a hot NYC hotel room that I got out of this.

One thing that Luhrmann succeeds here at though: getting the youth of today to read a classic and perhaps think about it in terms of the loss of focus in our social media run society today. He did something similar with Romeo and Juliet. I think as a film watcher though, I’m still waiting for him to surprise me with Strictly Ballroom again.

P.S. And why was Carraway reading Ulysses while he was still at Yale (banned book back then)? I want the copy seen in the film! It’s big, green, and awesome looking.


Here, play the video game:

Or read the book:

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