The Great Gatsby - a film review
The Great Gatsby 2013
If you haven't heard or don't know anything about The Great Gatsby, a novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, then you apparently slept through your high school or college American literature class.
The novel, published in 1925, is about the life and times that Fitzgerald lived and witnessed during the the time period referred to as the Jazz Age, Roaring 20's, The Guilded Age, or The Age of the Lost Generation. It was a time of great wealth and also of great poverty here in the U.S. But, Fitzgerald being wealthy himself at this time (he later died penniless) wrote of the super-wealthy. Those of old, aristocratic money and those termed the nouve riche, or new money.
Yes, there were even class distinctions among the super-rich in the '20's as there probably are today. And, one of the themes running through the novel is the distain and 'looking down the nose at' the new money rich by the old money rich.
The main character, Jay Gatsby, is nouve riche, of the new money, and his love is Daisy Buchanan of the old, aristocratic money. In the end, Daisy chooses to remain with her husband, Tom Buchanan, "the brute" as she calls him and the old, aristocratic money.
Another of the themes running through the novel is that the rich are different than the rest of us. They have their own patterns, their own way of living, and their own way of looking at the world. As Fitzgerald so beautifully portrays in his novel, they represent the decadent American dream, they are self-absorbed, selfish, skittish, fickle and 'smash up others' lives,' without a care or a look back.
I am not going to summarize the story for you as you need to read it and Fitzgerald's words yourself. Only then can you really appreciate the story of Jay Gatsby in its totality.
However, Hollywood has loved this story with its themes and symbolism so apparent in the novel. But, I have yet to see a film adaption of this movie that is able to catch and nail down the subtleties with which Fitzgerald writes his novel.
There have been five films made and adaptations of Fitzgerald's most important work:
- 1926 was a silent film made of the novel and no longer available for viewing
- 1949 with Alan Ladd portraying Gatsby
- 1974 with Robert Redford portraying Gatsby
- 2000 with Toby Stevens portraying Gatsby in a made for TV movie
- 2013 with Leonardo DiCaprio portraying Gatsby and showing right now in movie theaters.
The Great Gatsby 2013
Interview with DiCaprio
Buz Luhrmann's adaption
This most recent film adaption of Fitzgerald's novel was directed by Buz Luhrmann, probably best known for his film, Moulin Rouge.
And, that is the problem here with his Gatsby. His Gatsby is not new or original. In fact, it seems to me to be a watered down version of Moulin Rouge. Where garishness and over-the-top scenes and film set were perfect for Moulin Rouge, it comes off as cartoonish and contrived in his Gatsby film.
This is my biggest criticism of this version of Gatsby. The sets are ridiculous, the party scenes too much and over-the-top and not in keeping with the rich atmosphere of Long Island Sound. He even over exaggerates the "valley of the ashes" set and his New York City sets. It lends a creepy, leery feel to this Gatsby that should not be. This is not how Fitzgerald wrote his novel.
I also did not care for the music that weaves throughout the movie. It is current hip/hop and pop music, I understand by JayZ. Only once, did I hear a true Gershwin song during one of the party scenes. I guess Luhrmann choose contemporary music to appeal to the younger generations, but I felt the contemporary music was inappropriate. I would have much preferred the music of the times, Gershwin or Cole Porter songs and music.
With my biggest criticisms out of the way, there were some aspects of Luhrmann's film that I liked. First and foremost, I loved, loved, loved Leonardo DiCaprio's performance as Jay Gatsby. He nailed it. I think he even did a better performance of Gatsby than Robert Redford did in the 1974 version and you know what a fan I am of Robert Redford.
DiCaprio certainly had the look of Jay Gatsby and a strength and fortitude I did not see in Redford's performance. DiCaprio played lovesick, innocent woer of Daisy and also tough business man, secretive, and coy.
His love for Daisy came across as pure, simple, true and idealistic. His tough business man came across as realistic, cunning, shrewd, and grasping. These two sides to Gatsby, what makes him so enigmatic in the novel, were perfectly portrayed by DiCaprio.
Daisy is another matter. I thought Carey Mullligan did a rather good portrayal of Daisy, although I much preferred Mia Farrow's Daisy in the 1974 film. Mia Farrow came across as more fragile, something I felt was missing from Carey Mulligan's performance in the 2013 version.
Daisy is a combination of fragility, false strength, and self-absorption as Fitzgerald writes her. Mia Farrow did a better job of capturing the true essence of Daisy.
The scenes between Gatsby and Daisy I felt were well done by DiCaprio and Mulligan. The best scene of the movie, I felt, was the bedroom scene where Gatsby is throwing his hundreds, maybe thousands of shirts, all different colors all over the room. Then, Daisy is luxuriating among the shirts. A delightful, funny, romantic, honest scene. Something Jay Gatsby would do.
Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway did a fantastic job. He also nailed his performance. What I didn't like about this film was the framing of the story Luhrmann chose to do. Fitzgerald has Nick Carraway narrate the story all through the novel. Carraway is not rich and is able to lend his realistic observations and opinons about the super-rich.
Luhrmann had Carraway as an alcoholic (in keeping with Fitzgerald's life) in a sanitarium and as part of his therapy actually authoring and writing the novel, The Great Gatsby. This was contrived, not true to the novel, and I did not like it.
The words from the novel that popped up on the theater screen were a distraction and silly, but put there, I believe, because this movie can also be seen in 3-D. This was another contrived aspect of film. This is not a film that I believe should be done in 3-D although I did not see that version. I choose the traditional movie version to see.
The other characters from the novel, Tom Buchanan, Jordan Baker, Myrtle Wilson and her husband were well done and in keeping with the novel. Although, in the novel, Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker have an affair which was not portrayed in this version of the film.
I believe that affair is important to Nick's understanding and realistic observations of the carelessness, callousness and fickleness of the super-rich.
I will say, that Luhrmann stayed with the symbolism and importance of color within Fitzgerald's novel. The film is bathed in yellows and golds, Daisy and Jordan clothed in whites and beige's along with Gatsby and goes along with Gatsby's pale pink/mauve suit in the climax scene at the Plaza hotel where Daisy must choose between Gatsby and her husband, Tom.
At all times there was a yellow or golden light on Gatsby and even DiCaprio's make-up was a golden glow around the jawline. That was very much in keeping with the novel.
Also, Luhrmann kept with the green light emanating from the dock at the Buchanan mansion and its symbolism of Gatsby's hope of getting Daisy back.
I recommend seeing this version of The Great Gatsby, as I think it is worth seeing DiCaprio's performance, definitely the best part of this film. His emotional range is excellent and he capture's Fitzgerald's character very well.
I prefer movies stay with the novel as close as possible and stay with the characters as written by the author. However, I realize this is Luhrmann's own vision of Fitzgerald's work. I just don't think his own vision works very well.
The Great Gatsby is definitely a novel that should be read before seeing the film version and the novel definitely is better than any of the film adaptions made of it.
Copyright (c) 2013 Suzannah Wolf Walker all rights reserved