A street Overcat
The 1925 novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald condemned the decay he saw in 1920’s America. The ideals of discovery, individualism, and pursuit of happiness had been replaced by materialism and hedonism.
The film, however, ignores the former and celebrates the latter with grand extravagance. So for cautionary purposes: if you are seeking an exact clone of the novel in this film, you and you’re book club friends might as well either save your cheddar points or go see the film, but leave the sentimental anger/rage where it belongs; at home with loved ones.
Great, then let us begin old sport.
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire
Genre: Drama, Romance
The Great Gatsby tells a story of a group of people disillusioned by a promise of the ‘American Dream’ during the prosperous and flamboyant era of the ‘roaring twenties.’
On a real positive note, Luhramann put together an excellent cast whose performance was good enough to balance out the constant feeling of disorientation that his films are known for.
Rightfully cast as Jay Gatsby, Leonardo DiCaprio plays to one of his strongest roles: the tragic hero. One very awakening sensation that will wash over you as you get sucked into Jay Gatsby’s frame is that of déjà vu. Like Gatsby’s fixation on the past, and the belief that one can repeat it, the viewer suddenly becomes a believer of that concept the moment we are epically introduced to Mr. Gatsby.
The reason why Dicaprio was extremely believable as Gatsby in this film is because DiCaprio still evokes the sensation of teen lust. Jay Gatsby is essentially an adult version of Jack Dawson from the 1997 film Titanic. The fascinating and charming Jay Gatsby, like Jack Dawson, ultimately becomes the victim of his own ambition. Gatsby reaches for his unattainable perfect life represented by the green port light, Daisy, and his clandestinely acquired wealth to which eventually drives him to a watery fate.
Like in Titanic, the Gatsby character played by Leo comes from a peasant family background to which he ultimately finds himself in a situation that steers him into the social/cultural circles of the elite. Conversely, in order to maintain and keep up appearances, Gatsby must do everything he can to convince others of his newly acquired identity. He is a poor boy striving for something more and great. In the film there was a line by Gatsby that really solidified the whole connection:
“A man like me should never fall in love because I am always supposed to be going up.”
It is this dedication and romantic desperation to Daisy and Rose that lead to both Dicaprio’s characters to their tragic and very similar fates. Add to that, the way in which Gatsby lifts his champagne glass just to the side of the viewers direct stare is hard to ignore. That scene alone created a direct link both in a thematic and Pavlovian sense.
The film also stars Carey Mulligan (best known for her recent performance in Drive) as Daisy Buchanan, a young conceited woman who Gatsby consistently lusts after. In addition to being very attractive, she can play a self-absorbed gold digger like none other.
Furthermore, through Nick Carroway’s (Toby Maguire’s) initial narration through the beginning of the story, the viewer’s perception is rightfully in third person. However, after all the build-up and suspense to the moment of being introduced to Gatsby, with his charming smile and glass raise, the viewers perception automatically shifts to that of now being the eyes and ears of Nick Carroway. This I thought was brilliantly done. It was accomplished by having Gatsby look the audience straight in the eye while he gave his smile and toast in slow motion. From this point on you were now invited into Gatsby’s frame/world not as a mere spectator, but as a perceived guest of honor.
The moment mentioned above was not only crucial to the film, but also to the connection between the audience and the Gatsby character. It was so well done in fact to the point that I had stopped noticing the annoying glow from some women’s cell phone and the couple behind me who wouldn’t shut up about how expensive popcorn was.
It’s a movie theater folks, turn your f*ing oracles off and expect to be ripped off at the concession stand. This isn’t your friend’s parent’s basement on a rainy afternoon. But I digress.
On a different note, Luhrmann is recognized for the over the top style of film-making with prior works such as Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! With The Great Gatsby, this flashy style reached an all time high in and there were some parts in the film that are a bit distracting. However, the fast paced camera work, computer generated scenery, digitally enhanced painted looking colours and an infusion of contemporary rap/electronic music into the 1920’s landscape, did collectively provide a surreal and cerebral movie watching experience.
Sadly, there is no way you can appeal to today’s general audience with a staid, Hollywood factory production. The music that was chosen to overlay the 1920’s landscape in this film did just that: appeal. To put it bluntly, what this movie is trying to say through its overlay with contemporary music is: young people today, you ain’t seen shit.
They were partying hard in the 1920s. The stock market at that time was on a huge bull run, and there seemed to be no end in sight. That’s why it was called the Jazz Age and the Roaring twenties. Anything you think your generation is doing, they were doing it too. Everything from solvent abuse, brilliant bootlegging, organized crime, swinging sex parties(aka petting parties), graceful binge drinking, lavish shopping sprees, all the way to fancy f*ing dinner parties; you name it, they were doing it. However, to make the above point to the majority of young people today, you have to use a bit of hyperbole and also have something that bridges that conceptual/temporal gap. Luhrmann does it with music. It is disorienting at first, but you get used to it.
To sum it up, this movie is worth seeing in theaters. Luhrmann brings a larger than life quality to his films and they deserve to be seen on a large screen, in a large room, and with Dolby HD surround sound. However, if you are going to be part of the cinematic experience, don’t be a moron; turn off your phone and save the complaining for family reunions.
*Side Note: Cinematic Underdogs & Overcats will be going more in depth with The Great Gatsby film and will be conducting an interview with an English literary expert. That interview transcript will be posted in the near future.