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The Great Gatsby

May 23, 2013

The Great Gatsby (2013)
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan

Great Gatsby

Synopsis: Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moves into a small property in West Egg, Long Island, while trying to make a living selling bonds in Wall Street. He becomes re-acquainted with his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her boorish husband Tom (Joel Edgerton), and is soon taken in by the extravagant parties that occur in the huge mansion next to his, and the mysterious man, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), who lives there…

Review: Fearing the worst with Baz Luhrmann of the execrable Moulin Rogue! and Australia fame taking on one of the most beautiful and subtle novels of American literature, it comes as a relief to report just how reasonable his interpretation actually is. Don’t get me wrong – it’s far from perfect, there are one or two sizeable flaws, and most of the relative success is down to the inherent excellence of the source material, but still….

Garnering a lot of negative attention has been Luhrmann’s anachronistic flourishes – especially with a contemporary, urban hip-hop soundtrack featuring prominently – but this is actually one of the least objectionable aspects to the film. It feels strangely permissible in making manifest through postmodern means that this was modern New York City in the making – pulsating to the rhythms of music, money and excess. Luhrmann’s swooping use of CGI to sketch in the various locales of West Egg, East Egg, the Valley of Ashes and Manhattan helps imprint this macro-picture of a New York (and its characters) dangerously interconnected, and there’s an especially ingenious shot where Nick Carraway feels the process of himself coming corrupted at Tom and Myrtle’s de facto shag pad when he looks out across the city at all the other would-be illicit stories. It must also be said that the movie isn’t per se too excessive in its depictions of Gatsby’s parties – if you re-read the novel, you’ll be surprised at just how exaggeratedly opulent and outrageous Fitzgerald wanted them to appear.

Where the movie is less successful is in homing in on the inherent melancholic darkness and the subtle allusiveness of Gatsby’s central journey. While it’s a lovely performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, one wishes Luhrmann would have left the green light/’Daisy being across the bay’ imagery to one or two choice occasions (making the final, summating paragraph by Carraway that much more effective). The symbolism of the Valley of Ashes and Dr Eckleburg’s eyes being a harbinger of Gatsby’s doom and the rottenness beneath the era’s gilded veneer is also over-done.

The key framing device of Carraway recounting the narrative to a doctor in rehab is also fairly lame. While there is some logic of it fitting in with the notion that the characters were so drenched in booze and excess, it’s almost too literal a mechanism to enable Carraway’s function as narrator to occur. Surely it would have been more subtle and profound if Carraway’s narration had been solely voiceover, or better still that there was no accompanying voiceover at all? Thus, instead of finishing on Luhrmann inelegantly putting Carraway’s last, beautiful lines on the screen, why not some quiet, poignant fades that could visualise how Long Island went from being a “fresh, green breast” of land for the Dutch sailors, to the locus for Gatsby’s limitless dreaming of the green light and the “orgiastic future”? (May 2013)

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