Baz Luhrmann is synonymous with two things: films that are drenched in visual effects and imagery, and films with an explosive soundtrack. He loves his visual theatrics and uses it well. Lurhmann keeps up this exaggerative tradition with his latest directorial feature, The Great Gatsby. It’s based on the book by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which almost anyone with a high-school education has read before, or has at least Sparknoted it.
When I first heard about the new Gatsby film, I was hit with several flashes of nostalgia. I read the book years ago (2009 to be precise), so I can only vaguely remember what happened in the book; most of which were images of the 1974 film version with Robert Redford. Although I do remember that I really did enjoy the book, and that I did rather well in the exam.
The trailers and pictures were breathtaking. The cast line-up was beautiful. All my female friends were losing themselves to the charm of this film. However, the only thing I thought of when I saw all the media was: “I hope the themes and symbols of the book doesn’t get lost under all this glitter.”
So did the film do the book its due justice? Obviously the film will never be as good as the book, but it all depends on how close the films can get to the books’ brilliance. In Gatsby‘s case it actually gets very close, but not quite.
For those that have not yet read Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, read it! But if you’re lazy, then here is a tiny summary: The Great Gatsby is about Nick Carraway who is drawn into the world of excess and the newly rich. There he finds the enigmatic Jay Gatsby that has a history with Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan, who is married to old-money Tom Buchanan. Gatsby’s love for Daisy causes a tragic train of events set in a world where dreams are simultaneously created and broken. I hope that’s a nice summary.
From the start of the film, you get an idea of the era the story takes place in. However it is also with the opening scenes that my confusion of this film started to develop. In the opening scenes, Nick Carraway is in an institution. Was this in the book? I don’t fully understand this decision. It wasn’t in the book as far as I can remember. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t a bad decision, in the sense that it contributed to the meaning of the story, but it still changed everything I thought about Nick Carraway in the book.
The content of the film is actually very decent, although maybe not for die-hard Fitzgerald fans (I’m assuming). Extravagance is an element that is emphasized extravagantly (Ha! Punny…) from the start of the film. Every single object is extravagant! Some have argued whether or not dear old Fitzgerald would have approved of this extravagance. Luhrmann thinks he would have. I have to agree. The story is about the disintegration of the American Dream, and the American Dream is, among other things, about excess. Thus the extravagance is fitting.
However, the mixing of old and new elements in terms of music is great, but weird as well. The Electro-swing music was awesome, but the music that reminds me of 50-cent wasn’t as much. I get the whole modern re-envisioning yada-yada stuff, just like in Romeo + Juliet, but… I don’t know… it gets a bit much. It doesn’t help that Jay-Z was an executive producer. I just don’t like Hip Hop, okay?
The symbols of the story are actually featured a bit, so even superficial people would realize their significance. However, you get the feeling that the film is for the masses when Nick has to narrate the meaning of the symbols… almost constantly. Where Nick’s narration helps tremendously is where he delivers actual quotes from the book. Although this is more a treat for people who have actually read the book. In the end, most of the meaning gets lost under the heavy weight of special effects and obligatory 3D-efying.
The acting was actually done quite brilliantly, especially for Leonardo DiCaprio, who played the title character Jay Gatsby. He portrayed Gatsby with a certain flair and really captured the essence of Gatsby and the desperation that Gatsby feels for Daisy, who is played by Carey Mulligan. I thought the decision to cast Mulligan as Daisy was very risky. I’m not saying she was bad. On the contrary, I thought she was great for the role. The only thing I’m worried about is that she didn’t really portray the shallow side of Daisy as much as I would like her to. The rest of the cast were excellent, even Isla Fisher who played Myrtle.
At the technicalities of the film is where I start to get really nitpicky. One thing that was really scratching my eyes was the very weird effects editing. There were many shots that felt really awkward and made the 3D effects look really cheap. The flow of certain shots were also very awkward, where it seems like the timing was a bit off. Sometimes you feel like a certain shot is saying: “Look at me, but don’t… No, stop looking… What are you doing, look at me!”
Nitpicking aside, The Great Gatsby is a very decent film and delivers stellar performances from its cast. It’s typically Luhrmann, which is great, but it does sometimes feel like the meaning gets lost under all the heavy visuals. Book-lovers will, however, leave the film quite dissatisfied.