The (Surprisingly) Great Gatsby
“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.”
I have a severe aversion to doing things simply because I’m instructed rather than making my own choice to do so. I comply rather than rebel, but the time spent on said must-do thing is typically filled with contempt and ire. Such was my relationship with reading while traveling the road of academia. School nearly killed…or at least ruined…my love of books.
Given the distance and perspective granted by age, I am grateful for mandatory assignments; there are a good many works I would never have chosen to read on my own accord. Nevertheless, only a few titles caught my attention enough to voluntarily re-read.
One piece I’ve revisited several times over the years is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby. I won’t lie and tell you it’s one of my absolute favorites, but it is one of a very small number of works that I repeatedly enjoy. I revel in discovering different details with each read.
I’ve long been a proponent of treating novels and film adaptations as unique entities,
judging each format on its own merits.
It’s a sort of coping mechanism for me—
the only practical way of avoiding disappointment and alienation, of enabling cinematic enjoyment no matter how far the story strays from the source.
Last night I had the opportunity to exercise that distinction once again while attending an advance screening of Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of The Great Gatsby.
We’re all friends here, so I’ll be straight with you: I fully expected to be disappointed. There are things one comes to expect from a Luhrmann film, departure from period elements and heavy reliance on creative liberties not least among them. And as much as I wanted to evaluate it without regard to the literary legacy, I wasn’t sure how it would mesh with even the most basic essence of Gatsby.
From the onset, I was captivated. The film epitomizes the opulence painted by Fitzgerald, lavish scenery and costumes brimming with vibrancy. Early sequences relied heavily on their 3D elements, and rightly so—this may not be the greatest use of the technology to date (I would have enjoyed it just as much in standard) but it was exhilarating at times, particularly when plummeting down the sides of NYC skyscrapers.
I’d heard a number of concerns regarding the use of modern music rather than period ’20s jazz. Honestly, though, I think it worked fairly well…caveats notwithstanding. The gratuitous Jay-Z and Beyonce presence reeks of self-importance. Moreover, the soundtrack dooms this otherwise beautiful bit of cinema from becoming the classic that the performances might have warranted.
Leonardo DiCaprio embodies the quintessential Jay Gatsby. He’s at once heart-wrenchingly tender and hostile, sympathetic and suspicious. DiCaprio easily stands apart as one of the most brilliant, dynamic actors of our time. I rarely see him in his films, only his characters. And no, my assessment isn’t the result of some long-held crush from the Titanic days.
Apart from DiCaprio, I was generally pleased with the cast in its entirety. Tobey Maguire, in particular, exceeded my expectations. I didn’t enjoy his take on Spider-Man, wasn’t a fan of Seabiscuit and haven’t cared enough to see him in anything else. Yet as Nick Carraway, I felt that he finally owned a character.
And how perfect was casting Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan?! My limited understanding of golf paired with my unlimited use of the internet tells me that a mulligan is essentially a do-over. Considering Gatsby’s goals, that alone makes her the perfect Daisy.
The sum of the film is a strong reimagining of a gritty and compelling story, visually and stylistically stunning if a little overindulgent. Not unlike the source.