Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Great Gatsby

As with all ambitious adaptations of great american literature, and certainly most especially for something as highbrow as The Great Gatsby -- possibly America's most precious literary gem to date, one can expect a polarizing reaction from the audience.

Indeed, with society's penchant for book purism and nitpicking at the slightest deviation, The Great Gatsby is sure to illicit strong negative reactions for seemingly little to no reason at all. If Francis Scott Fitzgerald could hear us all, I'm sure he will find the irony that his take on the great American dream -- the lust for power, and beauty, and money, and glamour, and fame at whatever cost -- can bring to fore the ugliest traits in individuals of our time, an age less than a decade short of a century later, supposedly advanced and modern in all possibly ways.

As a reader, and as one of Baz Luhrmann's biggest supporters, I could not help but think back on certain scenes both in and out of the novel and of the film. While most literary academics will spit out words like "gauche", "crass", "unsubtle", "loud", "gaudy", and "tawdry" to describe this film, I choose to use words like "dazzling", "spectacular", "riveting", "awe-inspiring", and "magical". I feel like the decadence and sleaziness of the film can attribute itself to the fact that the 20's, though more conservative than we in many ways, was an age of pure and carnal lust for living on the edge. The prohibition, the speakeasies, the general drunkenness of New York and the rich and illustrious at the time was nothing short of jaw-dropping in one of the world's most pivotal moments.

Tobey Maguire provided the rock solid foundation through his narrative that one feels like he is engaged in a conversation with the actual Nick Carraway confiding about his summer mingling with the gliteratti, the rich, the famous, the powerful, and the beautiful in all of their love, deceits, and half-truths. You feel inspired as he talks about The Great Jay Gatsby (Leo di Caprio), and just as soon feel the disillusionment provided by [SPOILER ALERT] his selfish and careless cousin, the beautiful and unreachable Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), and her philandering blue blooded husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton).

Leonardo diCaprio's take as the enigmatic Jay Gatsby is nothing short of brilliant and Carey Mulligan's performance as shallow yet beautiful Daisy is magical. One can certainly see how she managed to capture and imprison the heart of Gatsby for long after they first meet. Their chemistry sizzles and one cannot help but be reminded of diCaprio's turn as Romeo Montague in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. His face, so beautiful and hopeful and expressive provides the perfect canvas for the spectacle of Luhrmann's vivid imagination.

While many may compare The Great Gatsby to Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet, certainly the tale of circumstance, bad timing, and tragic love from the voice of a disillusioned writer is cause for comparison, Gatsby is, in its purest sense, very far indeed from being about star-crossed lovers. While Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge is, in its core, a story of true and unapologetic love, Gatsby is the tale of the death of hope. While the love story of Fitzgerald's scharacters is certainly tragic, it is more heartbreaking that it is all seen through the eyes of innocent and naive Nick Carraway, who, at the very end, was the only one who saw the true greatness of Gatsby's character.

The Great Gatsby is summed up perfectly by Carraway's (and the novels!) parting lines: “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning — So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Nothing could be closer to the truth to both Fitzgerald's and Luhrmann's productions.