Over the last few years any mention of The Great Gatsby has filled me with contempt due to the incredibly boring time I spent studying the novel in high school. I was also subjected to the 1974 film version starring Robert Redford, and if anything that just added to my feeling of dislike towards F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work. When I heard there was a new film adaptation coming out I decided I wanted to see it – I mean it couldn’t really get any worse could it? And being directed by Baz Luhrmann meant that it should at least be somewhat entertaining.
Within the first twenty minutes of Luhrmann’s adaptation I was blown away and all my previous feelings towards The Great Gatsby had changed. The film is a masterpiece, done with more “pomp and circumstance” than ever before. The storyline is portrayed in a way that actually makes one sympathetic towards the characters, unlike in the book which I personally found rather dull. The music, the costumes, the actors, and even the camera movement add life and vibrancy to the story.
Set in 1920s New York, The Great Gatsby is full of drinking and parties and affairs. The story is narrated by Nick Carraway, played by Tobey Maguire. Maguire’s performance is excellent to watch: uncomfortable and amusing at the same time, his character is the ultimate third-wheel, obediently following Jay and Daisy around. The film opens with Nick in a sanatorium, where he has gone after the events of the film to deal with his alcoholism and depression. It is from here that he tells us the story of the great Jay Gatsby, as a part of his therapy. This narration at various times throughout the film adds not only emotion to certain events but also relevance, as without it there would be so much about everyone’s characters that we wouldn’t be able to understand.
In the beginning, Nick moves into a house next door to Gatsby in the Long Island village of West Egg. Across the bay is the village of East Egg, and directly opposite Gatsby’s house is the house of Nick’s cousin Daisy. Gatsby spends endless hours gazing at the flashing green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. Despite being so close to her, he still feels the great distance between them. This setting is somewhat hard to grasp in the book, but Luhrmann relieves us from the stress of keeping track of where everyone is with his wide camera pans that travel not around but straight over the water between the two shores. The film isn’t just visually stimulating, but easy to follow at the same time.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby is, would anyone doubt it, outstanding. At alternate times moody, secretive, laughable, entertaining, shy, proud, loving, and angry, Leo captures all of Gatsby’s temperaments without fail. Similarly, Carey Mulligan’s performance as Daisy Buchanan is stunning. She doesn’t say much, and true to her character she doesn’t say much of any importance either. But it is clear that she is no fool. Mulligan’s face says everything that her dialogue doesn’t. Her anguish at her husband Tom’s affairs, her love for Gatsby, her desire to be happy, and also her mistrust towards something that seems too good to be true when Gatsby wants her to leave Tom, are not stated but are nonetheless written all over her face.
And of course, how can you talk about Baz Luhrmann without mentioning the music, the costumes and the dancing? There was, as expected, multitudes of glitter, feathers and sequins, nicely balanced with much simpler styles depending on the scene. The party scenes, and there were quite a few, featured not only fantastic outfits but also much energetic and entertaining dancing. Now, any fans of Moulin Rouge – myself included – will be thinking “but what about the music?” But never fear, Luhrmann lives up to all expectations. Featuring songs by Beyonce, Jay Z (who was also an executive producer of the film), will.i.am, Florence + the Machine and Emile Sande, just to name a few, how could it go wrong?
There are few films I can truly say this about, but: I laughed, I cried, I loved it. I would recommend this movie to pretty much everyone, whether you like the music, the actors, the book, the Luhrmann style, or even none of it. This film surprised me with its overall appeal, and it might just surprise you too. And if you’re wondering, like my mum and the guy sitting in front of us were, then yes, that was Isla Fisher.