I am living proof that you can get all the way through high school and college (even being an English major!) without ever having read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
So I picked it up about a year ago.
And I flew through it. I love the book.
And then… the movie.
Honestly, with this movie, I was in from the moment it was announced. The Great Gatsby is returning to the big screen! And then… Baz Luhrmann (of Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge fame). Leonardo DiCaprio. Carey Mulligan. The list goes on…
Be still my beating heart.
It’s a shining story of beauty and wealth and fun and love stretched out across the years. Until you look just below the surface – just below the silk – and you find an ugly, rotting self-absorbed center.
And yet you can’t look away.
On one level – this is not your grandmother’s The Great Gatsby.
Between a soundtrack featuring everyone from Beyonce to Gotye to Lana Del Rey, a crazy art-deco-on-crack look, and Baz Lurhmann’s signature jump cuts and over the top side characters – the staid and stately version of this novel is long gone. (If you’ve ever seen Moulin Rouge, you know what I’m talking about.)
Jay Gatsby has still spent five years dreaming of his lost Daisy. He’s still elegant and smart and trying to create himself into his own image throughout the story. Daisy is still this ethereal being who inspires incredible devotion from Gatsby. (Can we talk about her clothes? Later..) Tom is still the kind of guy you just really want to punch. Nick still wanders through the story, narrating it with a kind and protective aura even as he gets through the shock of it all. The green light still glistens across the bay.
We’re used to extreme excess in our world today. Lights and glitter and gold dresses can be had by anyone. What was once fancy is now commonplace, and so in order to achieve the emotional shock of Gatsby’s parties, it only makes sense that Luhrmann would need to amp that up as well. If it’s over the top to an uncomfortable level, that’s because it’s supposed to be.
The heart of the novel is still on screen, even if the emotions don’t always match up.
There are moments – like the first hotel room with Tom and Nick and Myrtle and Jordan – where instead of finding the dark emotional emptiness of the characters, the movie focuses on the drug-fueled fun and chaos that can be had. The initial Gatsby and Daisy encounter in Nick’s flower-filled cottage is played for laughs instead of living in the overwhelming emotions of being stuffed back into a tiny room with The One Who Got Away.
But there are also moments – like the remainder of Gatsby & Daisy’s meetings, where the tone is stunning. I wish I’d done everything on earth with you. How can you fall in love with a new person and the same person you’ve always loved all at the same time? You’re excited for the future and mourning the lost moments and wishing that you could scrub all the other memories from your mind so you can find the great Firsts of life together again.
And somehow – it all becomes the magical story you tell over and over… because you’ll never have it again.
It slips away, in a single sacrifice born from the worst moment of Daisy’s life. It’s beautiful and terrible all at once.
That green light will always be out there, waiting for you…
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