One day when the light is glowing
I’ll be in my castle golden
But until the gates are open
I just want to feel this moment
The song “Feel This Moment” by Pitbull featuring Christina Aguilera is not from the highly anticipated blockbuster The Great Gatsby, but it perfectly captures the spirit of a gorgeous film that breathes fresh air into F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel about life’s evanescence and the folly of trying to force fantasies of the past into reality.
The Light is Glowing
The Roaring 20s: a time when the most feminine women tried to look boyish and the most genteel members of society had an abundance of illegal liquor. It is no wonder that American literature from this time combines disparate themes so effortlessly: elation and melancholia, beauty and revulsion, excess and loss. The narrator of the film, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), is a hopeless man recounting the tale of a young and hopeful version of himself during the summer of 1922. Nick lived next door to the enigmatic epitome of dichotomy: Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio completely became him), the poor boy turned gazillionaire, the sad loner who parties with an entire city every weekend. Though Gatsby seems to have it all, he is consumed with re-winning the love of Nick’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), a woman he lost five years ago. He stands near the water and stretches his arm toward the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, but can never quite reach it.
His Castle Golden
Director and co-screenwriter Baz Lurhmann (probably best known for Moulin Rouge) and the cinematographer did a magnificent job of portraying the splendor and decadence of Gatsby’s mansion parties. Fireworks, sparkling jewels, booze flowing like water from a fountain, and vividly made up faces rush in and out of the frame to an incredibly unique soundtrack full of hip-hop bragging and jazz lounge sadness. While the movie did not need to be in 3D, it added a surreal effect to the characters and make them seem more cartoonish, which is a great nod to how empty and superficial these people are in the book. The movie shines the most while showing off the grand life Gatsby has created around him in order to “earn” Daisy and persuade her to leave Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) and their lovely estate right across the water.
The Gates are Open
It is hard not to give too much away (and come on, the book has been out for almost a century), but Daisy eventually crosses the bay and the threshold of Gatsby’s palace. The two pick up where they left off, surrounded by beautiful material things and a growing scandal. Mulligan is perfectly porcelain and wispy as we would imagine Daisy to be, but she is much too sweet and forlorn for us to dislike the shell of a woman she is. In a similar fashion Maguire is too wide-eyed for us to reconcile Nick’s innocent face with the fact he purposefully entered a world full of drugs, loose women, and easy money or that he is basically an Extramarital Affair Assistant for several people in the film.
Feeling the Moment
Much of the tragedy of the film is how cruel time is to Jay Gatsby. Selfish Daisy wishes she could feel loved by him and bolstered in society by her brutish husband forever, but Gatsby is determined to move them forward and make his vision of the perfect life come true. He brusquely dismisses Nick’s assertion that “you can’t repeat the past” and pushes forward with his life’s mission. Leonardo DiCaprio is a beast of a thespian, conveying inner turmoil with a flicker of his eyes and delivering his lines in a way that make you want to listen to him plead his case forever. And I don’t know how Leo went from looking like a preteen for 10 years to looking 30 for another 10, but time has not been cruel to him at all. He is my favorite living male actor, and Gatsby is some of his best work.
While definitely more literal than the book and full of anachronism, Gatsby will be able to hold its own against this summer’s other hits because it is so jarring and different. It’s as if Luhrmann invited us into his “perfect, irresistible imagination” and focused not on faithfulness to the book or even making sense all of the time, but on making us feel connected to these characters and the time in which they lived. This film does all of that and more, so do not miss your chance to see The Great Gatsby on The Big Screen.
Final Grade: B+