I am what you may call a Baz Lurhmanite*. I have been of the opinion for many years that Strictly Ballroom is an age defying film. I was and always have been a Fran; I also love plush red velvet curtains and anyone who has an over-zealous penchant for sparkles and fast-forward jump cuts and doesn’t apologise for it. I have enjoyed every movie (yes even Australia) Baz has ever made. The Great Gatsby was a long time coming, having already been adapted 5 times since the books inception in 1925 over the span of 90 years but truth be told, there is no film that can surpass the original F.Scott Fitzgerald novel, because it’s a truly timeless and fantastic read. So when I heard he would be adapting one of my favourite books, I knew I was going to enjoy this film.
The Story: A young wall street broker moves to long island to pursue a literary dream but instead gets swept up in the unfathomable lives of debauched rich young socialites in the aftermath of the Great Depression and whirlpool of the roaring 20s. Sex, lies and greed (also known as the American Dream) are what drives their world of ill begotten wealth and meaningless self-validity; but its Nicks mysterious neighbour, a man called Gatsby, who is perhaps the biggest player of them all – and Gatsby has one specific goal in life, to get the woman he loves after 5 years of being without her.
Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan is simply wonderful in this film. During the credits my friend, who had never studied the book or seen the other versions, confessed how much she disliked Daisy as a character. I explained that everything she felt for Daisy was intended. She is not a character to be loved, none of them are, not even Nick the narrator. She is a “beautiful fool”. Leo DiCaprio is kind of, beautiful. It’s strange because it’s not since his Jack from Titanic days that I have seen him as a romantic lead. During some genuinely funny heart-warming scenes between him and McGuire, Gatsby lets his counterfeit composed nature slide when he sees Daisy again and as he is reduced to a nervous schoolboy in-love.
As much as I love 3D I wasn’t convinced that this film needed to be… until I saw it. It’s littered with beautiful shots orchestrated to come at you and entice you into the world we’re supposedly all so desperate to be apart of. In one scene, when Daisy is introduced, her cousin and also the story’s narrator, Nick Carraway (Tobey McGuire) is surrounded by billowing white curtains that come towards the audience and it’s truly a seductive watch.
I like watching white people in costume as much as the next, but I like it even more when there’s a realistic depiction of an era set in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. The lavish parties sequences are executed so well down to every detail, aesthetically it’s a perfect world Gatsby has dreamed up all for Daisy. When the real world intervenes and threatens to expose Gatsby’s American Dream for all that it is, an idealistic and somewhat desperate obsession, a darker more stifled filter takes over.
It’s very interesting how much of the films look attributes to the story as a whole. It’s not enough that we have Nick as our narrator, the outsider within, and the film seeks to go beyond the world fed through F.Scott Fitzgerald’s beautiful lines in the way only cinema could. Lurhmann’s artistic contribution lies in the spectacle and transitioning a well-known story and making it current. Historical accuracy is not what this film is about. Making it current is.
Firstly: I don’t think there is anything new to say, quiet frankly I think this source text is one of very few out there that will forever be ahead of its time and ring true indefinitely and if it draws a new/ young audience back to the book, even better.
Secondly: The decision to include modern music was a clever one. It’s inclusive, close to home and plausible, the glass window in which Nick Carraway is looking into is all the more real for us. Also Jay-Z (a modern Gatsby who perhaps made better choices in life and got the dream girl with it) has produced a fantastic soundtrack.
*this phrase was actually coined by me, like now. Its bad. I know…