The Great Gatsby: Notes from the Film

Gatsby poster 2After seeing this picture, here are some thoughts on this version of Gatsby:

1) Baz Luhrmann-A talented director, I wonder why he didn’t do this as a musical? One of the highlights of this film is the music. In particular, the build up to our first on-screen sighting of Gatsby with the spectacular backdrop of the West Egg Castle/home surrounding him and the music of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” plus a bevy of fireworks that make for splendid cinema.
2) Why didn’t they overhaul the film and make it a contemporary setting? It could easily be done with the theme of Wall Street Greed and corruption that pervades the storyline. So many of Shakespeare’s classics have been re-done in modern settings. This would have worked as well without the somewhat dated setting of the roaring twenties. However, the Art Deco sets are impossible to ignore. They are beautifully done in this film.
3) Good conceit: (With “Conceit” defined as a “quaint or humorous fancy)”. The notion that Nick, the narrator, is an alcoholic who ends up writing the story of Gatsby. Of course we see a bit of F.Scott Fitzgerald in both characters, the idealized version in Gatsby, and the more gritty and cynical persona of Nick. Fitzgerald often spoke of the dichotomy that existed within himself, and indeed, in all writers, where you may find yourself looking at a scene from the outside, even as you are taking part in the action. This is one of the successful themes that is highlighted in this film.
4) This film tries to stay true to the story Fitzgerald wrote. Some notable exceptions: the list that Gatsby made, we discover after his death, which reveals a lot about an otherwise mysterious character; the character of his father is also part of who Gatsby was/is and is missing in this version.
5) Like all great actors, DiCaprio embraces this role with a vengeance and does try to “own” the character of Jay Gatsby. He succeeeds in doing so. But…
6) The role of women: Daisy is/was weak! Zelda Fitzgerald (Fitzgerald’s wife and presumably, a model for the Daisy character), was not weak or epemeral. The character of Daisy constantly needs “protection” from the men. In the Jazz Age, women were just coming into their own as citizens, and they were finally allowed to smoke/drink in public and to vote. This was a first attempt to portray a “modern” woman, and Daisy comes off poorly. She is shallow, vain and selfish, although she has a core of cynicism and an innate ability to fascinate men. She comes across, not as a modern woman, but more of a warning sign to all to avoid greed and excess. More of a modern day Circe, she’s doomed to lead men to their deaths.
7) The parallels with Wall Street Greed and excess of the last ’08 Crash. I have a shameless suggestion: Better to watch “A New Leaf”, which recently aired on Turner Classic, and to read my review of that film listing some of the points which make this a good morality tale-on a much lighter note!- to serve as a warning against corporate and individual greed. Not that there aren’t some nice pivots in this Gatsby version which lead us in to a great crash…greed, avarice, the love of money, these are all points made in the film. The rich are seen as snobs and elites who are racist bigots and amoral to boot.
8) I admit, I’m not one to make a stand defending the rights of the rich in this country, but the focus of the film, the core message, sometimes gets lost in the overriding wish to lump Fitzgerald with the comment: ““Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”: Note: This quote was from the short story, ‘The Rich Boy”, written in 1924 while awaiting publication of “The Great Gatsby.”
9) There are some nice touches of Fitzgerald’s own prose being used within the film, particularly the use of the metaphor of the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. There are also some slow moments, but by including the green light the director emphasized the core message, which is that Gatsby, a metaphor for the American Dream, exuded hope to the bitter end.
10) As stated earlier in my previous write-up on “The Great Gatsby on Film”, prior to seeing this version, I contended that this was not the Great American Film. I still maintain this is true, however, I concede that this is the best of the bunch-the Gatsby bunch, that is.

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MLJ

Author of "6 Degrees of Film: The Future of Film in the Global Village", Ms. Johnson continues to blog on film and publishes a newsletter plus the Flipboard magazine 6 Degrees of Film @ the Movies. Her book is currently available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Degrees-Film-Future-Global-Village/

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