The Great Gatsby
A boy remembers reading The Great Gatsby when he was nine, the novel not as daunting as he would have thought, and when the last page was leafed through, a boy noted how expressive Fitzgerald was in his writing. We’ve all heard of the Roaring Twenties, the economic flourishing that made every person richer than the next, added with Fitzgerald’s flamboyant description, nothing could go wrong in this consumeristic utopia. The film adaptation from 2013, carves out a panache and spectacle that rightfully belongs to the novel, 3D effects acting as the icing on the cake. Be it by the novel, or by the film, you don’t really pay attention to the title. Only around the middle of the story do you start to ask, “What’s so great about Gatsby?” The Great Gatsby is about the era of prosperity, breaking away from traditions and embracing modernity. Shrouded in its grandeur, Long Island and the rest of New York lay their bricks on a coffin of hypocrisy and moral vacancy. Flush materialism and exoticness partner up with hope and love, to reveal why Gatsby is such an enigma.
Like the novel, Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation is a symphony of polarities, of ambivalence. 1920’s Jazz Age roars back to life in The Great Gatsby, a chandelier of endless sparkles, yet overfilled with indulgence. There is the classical divide between rich and poor, extending to separate the “old money” and “new money”. When we talk about the topic of love, the different character romances make for an analeptic poison, constructive and destructive simultaneously. Infidelity and infatuation. Told from the perspective of Nick Carraway, we are only introduced to the title character, Jay Gatsby, one third of the way into the story. By the end of the film, his character analyses will often split the fandom, because different people have contradicting opinions on him. In a way, Gatsby is a façade just like the rest of them. He emits charisma while shying away like a hapless dog for Daisy. He is unflappable during the chaos but loses his wits around Daisy. And he is as profound as he is hosting parties, yet blank without Daisy. Everything that Gatsby does is for Daisy, in a sort of stalkerish kind of way, which painfully gets shot down in the end, much like he is, in the finale. The Great Gatsby warns us of the unforgiving lure of a sham that dreams indoctrinate, proving that the so-called American dream comes at a hefty price.
The actors fit their characters well, honourable mention goes to Tobey Maguire for his portrayal of Nick Carraway. Of course, the limelight rightfully thrones our old friend Leonardo Diaprio, whose pomp certainly sits well with Jay Gatsby’s exuberance. The film can count on its other actors too; Joel Edgerton, Carey Mulligan and Elizabeth Debicki, who did fine jobs in their acting, but the main characters remain Gatsby and Nick.
The film starts with present-day Nick in a remote sanitarium, sadly reduced to alcoholism. His psychiatrist commissions him to recount the story of Gatsby, setting down on paper his account of that faraway summer in the Roaring Twenties. Just as it is in the novel, Nick is the narrator behind the flashback, his eloquence in words evident like Fitzgerald’s, forming coherent yet depressive writing. A younger Nick travels to New York City in 1922, home to the most affluent. Their wealth secondary only to their nonstop carousel of partying, Nick is sucked into the fun, mingling with the upper class’ commitment to alcohol and “loosening morals”. The Buchanans were the first step, and then the next step would be the front doors of Gatsby’s mansion. For all the awesome parades, no one knows the true identity of the mysterious host, only Nick and Jordan getting the privilege to discover first.
The camera angle very quickly turns to make Gatsby the main character, being the nucleus of the kaleidoscope carnivals. This is his story, his court, and his end. He hosts all these parties and dabbles in such eloquence, only for one goal in mind. I haven’t seen a man as dedicated to a woman in a long time, and though his rationale is questionable, we begin to root for him. This is not a romance film, where the guy gets the girl and runs off into the sunset with her. Despite all his almost-successful attempts, fortune does not favour the bold. “It’s a tough gig, trying to pump flesh and blood into a character who’s essentially a platonic conception of himself. But DiCaprio, unlike Redford, manages to convey the yearning innocence without sacrificing the palpable menace, especially during the pivotal confrontation scene — ‘suspicious Tom, tortured Daisy, besotted Gatsby, onlooking Nick and Jordan — ’ in the steaming heat at the Plaza Hotel.” Is there a better actor in the industry to play Gatsby? I highly doubt it. What started off as a promising intervention to claw Daisy away from Tom, the usually cool Gatsby blows up the big moment and a bouquet of unfortunate events crescendo down upon him. He is framed for the murder of Myrtle and killed by Wilson, the vengeful husband.
It would have been nice to see Gatsby enlisted as a martyr, known for his will and benevolence. Following Gatsby’s death, Nick is in charge of overseeing the details of his burial. You would imagine a sea of people coming to pay their respects, but disappointingly, nobody pays attention to it. Tom and Daisy rekindle their romance and leave, while the guests to the splendorous parties, refuse to become involved. Jay Gatsby may have been an almighty god amongst gods, but no memory of him is preserved, and hence the reiteration by Nick.
The Great Gatsby exposes the superficial layer upon layer in society, mixing the intriguing conquest for love to give audiences something to focus on. It is not what I would define as a romance film, in spite of the innumerable declarations of love throughout the film. The novel and film used plenty of irony and hyperbole to mock hypocritical social types, making The Great Gatsby a social satire. This is defined by the unsympathetic and selfish minds, being the symbol of unfairness, inequality and injustice. While some social satire retains a superficial tone throughout, the story fixates on human fallibility, amplifying the quote “to err is human”. Myrtle dies, then Gatsby, George. I think I’m speaking on behalf of everyone when we all sympathize with Gatsby’s character development. He sacrificed (and gained) so much, all for one specific goal, making you agree with the statement “better than the whole damn bunch put together.” subconsciously. “Satire is often limited in its ability to engage emotions of sadness, sympathy, and melancholy, and Fitzgerald uses a more serious tone to communicate these emotions.” Such are the themes of this story.
The ending passes by in an instant, and by the time Gatsby is lying in his coffin, motionless, you become engrossed in what Nick has to say. His poetic farewell stylized onto the screen, the grand finale is both a big reveal and depressing. You understand why Nick is so disappointed in humanity and how (for a more colloquial term) “fake” people can be, especially those in the powerful circle. Those famous last words subtitle and dance across the screen, making you mull over the loss of such a great man Gatsby was.
The bevvied, stupefying beat that makes audiences pop and crack in their seats, render us “enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety” in Gatsby’s ritziness. Some of the world’s greatest musical artists come together to create the blockbuster’s otherwise diverse soundtrack, as long after the credits roll, we can still remember the songs accredited to each segment. At a first listen, I was wondering why this film employed such a modern soundtrack, subsequently criticizing it for perhaps its “lack” of older jazz songs. I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of contemporary rap/hip-hop, but I couldn’t help but recognize the beauty of the anachronistic element it offered The Great Gatsby. Seeing that the Roaring Twenties, along with Gatsby himself, was representative of an era that embraced greed and a shallowness of the soul, this allowed the genres of rap, hip-hop, and even dubstep to make an extremely meaningful connection to a form of greed and shallowness found in today’s standards. Brilliant in my opinion. It mixes the two eras well, with the perfect amount of glamour and luxury, hinting the grand lifestyles displayed in the film. “The pace of the soundtrack is usually directly proportional to that of the film’s plot, thrill involving faster-paced music whereas, sadness involving slower, more evocative music.”
On the visual front, the film is more than visual. While 3D effects are mostly reserved for action movies, The Great Gatsby introduces us to a spectacle of flying champagne glasses and exploding colours. Some critics can be slightly hostile to this unorthodox usage, but the imagination of Fitzgerald demands us to do so.
Let’s talk about colours, shall we? While the rich can be characterized by their incessant spendings, there is a significant difference between the two groups of rich, the “old money” and the “new money”. It is revealed that Gatsby earned his wealth through slightly deceitful means, which classifies him as “new money”. Tom Buchanan credits his wealth as an old and inherited family heirloom. Don’t get mistaken, both of these men are richer than any ordinary citizen, though comparing those two together would be like comparing Mark Zuckerberg to Bill Gates. Within his palatial mansion, Gatsby has built countless rooms for his personal liking, one of which being a walk-in wardrobe. The audience and Daisy are bewildered by the massive collection of clothes Gatsby possesses. All of its ostentation bedazzles with bright colours, much like his suits do with equal brightness.
Oxford, New Mexico! He wears a pink suit for Christ’s sake!
There is a visible difference between Gatsby and Tom’s colour tones. Unlike Gatsby, Tom prefers his monotone suits to vibrant costumes, donning the traditional black and blue instead of pink and white. For all his parties, fame and money, Gatsby is still an outsider looking into the frame of the upper class. For all his randiancy, Gatsby does not embody the class of Tom’s kind’s traditions. Despite being a success in relation to the American Dream, he still has much to learn.
It does not take a genius to figure out that the green light bears some form of meaning, given how it frequents in the novel and the film. We mostly attribute the green light as an object far from Gatsby’s harbour, a figurehead to be looked at longingly and symbolizing love. In addition to that, it prompts him to twist his biography so that he can be accepted by Daisy. It is an endless pursuit of materialism and finally, love, a constant distance like a mathematical constant separating Gatsby from his end goal. It is achieving the impossible. It is reliving and fixating oneself on the past, adamant that the past can repeat itself, all for Gatsby’s liking. In DiCaprio’s blue ocean eyes, you see this recurring green light and his delusional stalking of Daisy. Classic.
Film adaptations are always welcome. Some of the best film adaptations in my experience are It, Life of Pi, and The Devil Wears Prada, each bringing life to the imaginary characters and plots. Although it is not always a success, thanks to purist mongrels demanding that each pixel be a carbon realization of each syllable, The Great Gatsby does well in this conversion from letter to picture.
Aside from some minor quirks, Luhrmann keeps most of the story intact, only removing some minor scenes from the book. For all you hounds insistent on finding faults with the film, click here.
I watched the film without much expectation. To me, it felt like another summer blockbuster that audiences will watch and never look back. Yes, you probably won’t retain much from this highschool-esque book report, and you’ve probably done one yourself about The Great Gatsby. If that’s the case, then you would probably agree that the film fails in some departments, particularly in the thematic sense and the depiction of Jay Gatsby.
The colour scheme in the novel is way more detailed than the film’s. The flurry of colours in the film offers minimal colour-theme association, whereas Fitzgerald’s version allocates red, yellow, blue, green, white and grey to their respective meanings. Mis à part the greenness of the film, I could not find another colour of much significance. I guess it’s not the director’s responsibility to re-enact every detail from the novel though.
When you infuse divinity within a character such as Jay Gastby, you need to rely on your imagination to separate him from the rest of us mortals. The decision to cast Leonardo DiCaprio as the title character is commendable, as few actors could potentially manifest Gatsby himself. The problem I have with him, however, is the same problem I have with film adaptations. Hear me out. The role of a director is to direct and in a way, dictate how a film goes. Restricting the fictionalism of Gatsby to DiCaprio undermines the very same fictionalism of the character. Luhrmann essentially gives you a script to follow along, deterring any previously announced idea you may have of Gatsby and the rest of the characters. Put it this way; if the film was never made, would you ever see Gatsby being played by Leonardo DiCaprio? Definitely not. Back to the movie It, can you see the monster as anything else other than Pennywise the Clown? Game of Thrones, will Kit Harrington always be your vision of Jon Snow? That is the issue with film adaptations. You take what you get, without much question, and it sticks. By no stretch of the imagination is the film a failure, but I just think certain works should stay within the confinements of a hard copy book, and The Great Gatsby is one of them.
P.S. my favourite song from the soundtrack is “Back To Black”. No one can trump Amy Winehouse’s deep, contralto vocals, though Beyoncé and André 3000 do well to give the song a new dimension. It feels edgier and suits the film’s perspective, given the twist at the end.