© 2018 by J. Eric Thompson

The Great Gatsby (PG-13)

Director: Baz Luhrman

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton

Despite the Vegas-y and vaguely CGI dreaminess of the entire affair, the cinematic acid trip seemingly took forever to float our way through, which yes, makes for a somewhat stifled viewing experience but also a fairly dead-on adaptation of the novel. Fitzgerald was infinitely more concerned with beautiful wordplay and poetic description of New York during the Jazz Age (notice how poorly his novels lend themselves to film thus far: Tender is the Night, The Last Tycoon, The Last Time I Saw Paris probably ring few bells, and Benjamin Button is the only one since Fitzgerald’s time that was even considered worthwhile, and that long-winded affair was mostly invented by David Fincher with its mere roots in a two-page Fitzgerald short). He had no issue with leaving characters flat and eschewing substance for beauty. Carey Mulligan claimed in an interview that she wasn’t sure if the audience was supposed to like or hate Daisy; she’s just written as a thing to be desired, as opposed to a complex individual with feelings and emotions of her own.

A nice touch throughout the film was Luhrmann cherry picking the most beautiful lines from the novel for Nick Carroway’s voiceover; for example, when it seemed that Gatsby had Daisy finally within his grasp (and echoing Daisy’s non-personhood), Carroway lamented on the fact that Gatsby somehow didn’t seem as thrilled as he should, and surmised that “[Gatsby’s] list of enchanted objects had diminished by one,” that the man no longer had anything to strive for, and it frightened him. Now it was just a green light at the end of a dock.

Daisy’s not even that entertaining, but she is beautiful and therefore must be desired. Possession, however, ruins allure. I argue the same about the film. The buildup to Luhrmann’s adaptation was mightier than its reception, which was tepid at best, unless cinematography or prettiness were mentioned, and it seemed like so many people were so excited about it until it arrived, until they saw it, possessed it, and would never again get to feel that anticipation of one of our favorite novels adapted by one of our favorite directors with one of our favorite actors. It’s all so exciting!

Meh, it was ok. The previews looked good though…

As a director with roots in ballroom choreography, Luhrmann kept the movement both of the camera and players like water throughout. Even during the non-party scenes everything felt choreographed, though not necessarily stiff or staged. Nor do I mean the film felt choreographed. But the deified existence that Gatsby led – servants at every step and his needs met before he even has a chance to verbalize what they are – spoke both to the direction of Luhrmann and the emptiness of the help. Beautiful and perfectly in sync, yet almost non-human. Even the pair of servants that shadowed Gatsby were twins. Aesthetics are valued above all; and Luhrmann either agrees with the sentiment or directed his film to echo and amplify it.

Jay-Z is under obligation to be mentioned. When the HBO series Deadwood was in the mainstream, one of its most discussed (and parodied) aspects was its blatant use of the worst curse words imaginable. This was meant to be only quasi-authentic; had the show used the actual, religion-born curse words of the day, there would have been lots of “tarnations” and “bejabbers” and “dag-nabbit”, and the characters would have all sounded like Yosemite Sam. Thus is the same for Gatsby. Not only for a Luhrmann-esque adaptation was Jay-Z needed to set the audience’s psychological stage for a party, but to avoid being somewhat granny-like, and (more practically) too reminiscent of Boardwalk Empire.

As a final note, this movie is a first, at least for me. This is the only time I could ever recommend or desire to rewatch a boring movie, but the atmosphere of the film feels eerily reminiscent of its subject, and even if you can’t be entertained digging through the plethora of eye candy during not only the orgiastic party scenes but the entire diamond-like film, it will give you a better perspective of Gatsby himself, and even a glimpse into the faberge life he leads. At least you’ll have something pretty to look at.