The Great Gatsby

First of all, I want to briefly give my thoughts on the film. I wasn’t sure what to think before I went in. Some of the reviews I had heard were pretty merciless and negative. But I have to say, I thought the director (Baz Luhrmann) was extremely loyal to the book; quite exacting actually, which I very much appreciated. He and I must be on the same imagination wavelength, because it was done exactly how I would have conjured the whole thing up in my mind. My only disconnect was with Jordan Baker’s height, which I don’t remember being so tall (maybe I just have forgotten?). Also, I thought the romantic relationship between Nick and Jordan seemed somewhat downplayed. But perhaps he (Luhrmann) didn’t want to muddy the plot too much with too many sub-plots?

nick and jordan

I actually thought all the gaudiness and music was well done somehow; and that was some of the criticism of other reviews, as I recall. The music was anachronistic, but it somehow made the old story seem timely – I thought it really worked actually. The set designs were incredible, and the cinematography was really well done also.

I thought the casting was excellent. I had my doubts about Carey Mulligan as Daisy, but she grew on me as the movie progressed. I thought DiCaprio did a phenomenal job; he seemed made for the role of Jay Gatsby. I don’t know what all the complaints about his faux accent are about – Gatsby did have a fake affected accent in the book and say “Old Sport” a lot.

jay and daisy

Now, my thoughts briefly on the story. Who/what is this story really about at the end of the day? I think the usual approach is that the story is about Gatsby and is a “cautionary tale of the decadent downside of the American Dream”* which it very well may be. Or perhaps “the breakdown of class differences in the face of a modern economy based not on status and inherited position but on innovation and an ability to meet ever-changing consumer needs”**.

Bear with me for a moment. What if we changed the perspective to the obvious: the story is about Nick and his perception of Gatsby. Nick has created this hero in Gatsby that doesn’t really exist. Recall the countless phone calls Gatsby has to take for his dark shady business in the background of the movie. Recall, Meyer Wolfsheim and the organized crime, bootlegging, bought politicians, etc. Gatsby is no moral pillar of society. Recall Gatsby is out to steal someone else’s wife, after all. But yet Nick has turned him into a hero. Why?

nick and jay

Does Nick represent the average American? Is Gatsby a personification of the beloved American Dream? Why is Nick idolizing a man who is trying to covet someone else’s wife; idolizing someone that has been successful because of dishonest business practices; idolizing someone that is living a lavish life of excess and greed, of pretense?

We Americans are always striving for more, hustling, hungry for more consumer items, wanting things we don’t necessarily need but just want (and buying them on credit); longing for the young beautiful doll wife/husband that is unobtainable, unavailable. Why? What is it in our DNA that hardwires us as a society to strive for these things? Is it just us or is it everyone everywhere? I wonder…

The story ends with Nick’s disgust and disenchantment with his New York life. He’s disgusted with Tom and Daisy; but he still loves Gatsby. Those two cut off his hero at the knees. They were responsible for snapping Nick back to reality. And the reality is that the dream figure of Gatsby no longer exists; Gatsby’s life/ world is fleeting, ephemeral. Gatsby is the American Dream and he is killed. There is no American Dream. It is just an imaginary construct that we strive for that doesn’t exist.

*From Wikipedia and Churchwell, Sarah (3 May 2013): “What makes The Great Gatsby great?”. The Guardian. Retrieved 5 May 2013.

**From Wikipedia and Gillespie, Nick (2 May 2013). “The Great Gatsby’s Creative Destruction”. Reason, Retrieved 12 May 2013.