The not-so-great ‘Great Gatsby’

Published: May 25, 2013
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Although the movie was a bit too long, Luhrmann’s attempt to use 3D images to capture the despondent lifestyle of amoral 1920s America was an interesting way of bringing the novella to life. PHOTO: https://www.facebook.com/thegreatgatsbymovie

I’ve always been disappointed by movies based on books that I’ve read because the director usually fails to bring the literary ingenuity to justice in the film. That’s why I made sure I didn’t read The Great Gatsby when I watched the movie, so that I could witness Baz Luhrmann’s magic on screen without constantly comparing it to the book. After all, he did a pretty decent job with Moulin Rouge and Australia!

The Great Gatsby starts off with Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a depressed insomniac, trapped in a sanatorium, going down memory lane and recounting the days of his enigmatic youth. He keeps mentioning ‘Gatsby’, and how Gatsby changed his entire outlook on life.

We witness Luhrmann’s interpretation of the wild, roaring, notorious, materialistic and wealthy American life of the 1920s filled with glitz, glamour, parties, and rambunctious effervescence and grandeur.

The 3D images try to capture the essence of a thriving New York in all its extravagant splendour and exuberant vigour.

Nick Carraway is one such Yale graduate living amidst New York’s thriving and opulent economy, making his way into the bond business. We are then introduced to Nick’s extravagantly wealthy relatives, his distant cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and her supercilious husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

Luhrmann goes way overboard in trying to capture the careless, superficial and wealthy lifestyle of the Buchanan household with the camera zooming in on the billowing white curtains that leave Nick stunned, as well as the shots of a bored, and superficial Daisy lying on a gargantuan couch, dressed in white, filled with opulent rapture, and desiring to do something fantastic with her lazy life.

We find out that Nick lives in the fictional village of West Egg, right next door to a mysteriously famous man named Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) who throws extravagantly lavish parties. The movie unfolds with Nick being invited to Gatsby’s grand festival. Later, we come to know that Gatsby has had an affair with Daisy in the past, and is still in love with her.

The entire movie centres around Gatsby’s tragic obsession with Daisy, his undying love for her and his objective in life, which is to marry Daisy.

He wants to devote his life to Daisy’s happiness by showering her with his opulent wealth. Throughout the movie, one gets a sense of the decadence and discontent seeping into the rich American lifestyle, as the characters are dissatisfied with their spouses and having affairs on the sidelines.

The pursuit of the American dream seems to be the central theme in the movie, and one can guess that this is something that is entirely an illusion as the central characters are absolutely miserable with their haughty, extravagant lifestyles filled with hollowness, loneliness and debauchery.

So after 143 minutes of enduring an overly exaggerated extravaganza that resembled a complex mix of a zombie movie gone astray, mixed with an attempt to display a colourful 3D imitation of Alice in Wonderland , and Anna Karenina, what’s my verdict?

Luhrmann is best suited towards producing musicals, and The Great Gatsby may have been better off as a tragic musical.

However, I immediately read the classic novel after watching the movie and discovered that Luhrmann actually did his best to stick as close as possible to the beautifully written novella by Fitzgerald.

He may have gone a tad bit too far with all the ecstatic opulence and the wild parties with Jay-Z songs blaring in the background (an attempt to modernise the audience’s vision of the American jazz age?), but he truly did his best and one can see that after reading the book.

Although the movie was a bit too long, Luhrmann’s attempt to use 3D images to capture the despondent lifestyle of amoral 1920’s America was an interesting way of bringing the novella to life.

Moreover, his extravagant display of the luxurious, wild, and excessive splendour of Gatsby’s parties was his way of depicting how hollow the pursuit of wealth actually is, and somehow, the disillusionment of the characters became more and more obvious through the riotous, ritzy and exuberant wasteland known as 1920s New York.

Leonardo DiCaprio is absolutely charismatic as the Great Gatsby, filled with an obsessive passion for the girl he loves. He brings the character of Gatsby to life beautifully, but we have already seen DiCaprio play the tragic lover boy who would easily die for the girl he loves in Titanic and Rome and Juliet, so his performance is nothing new.

Carey Mulligan is appropriate as the selfish Daisy, and Elizabeth Debicki is passable as Jordan Baker (a friend of Daisy’s). Tobey Maguire barely has any role to play and is merely relegated to the role of acting as the mouthpiece of the movie, reading out Fitzgerald’s prose in an attempt to give the movie the same sort of melancholic splendour as the novella.

The cameo appearance of Amitabh Bachchan (Meyer Wolfsheim) as a scrupulous bootlegger is absolutely horrible.

However, Luhrmann should have left Fitzgerald’s masterpiece alone and perhaps made a movie out of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.

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Filza Naveed

Currently pursuing an M.A in Cultural Studies at Queen's University. Passionate about the intersection of culture and politics. A freelance writer, poet, and coffeeholic.. She tweets @FilzaNaveed

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