Sunday, May 12, 2013

Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" The Jokes On You

Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby - The Jokes On You | A Constantly Racing Mind

"Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. ...I come to the admission that it has a limit."

F. .Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" is only 189 pages long.  Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of his novel is over 2 hours and 23 minutes and is a loud, bright, and vivid extravaganza of color, action, and drama.  Unlike the four previous versions of this classic of American literature, Luhrmann's vision is lively wild and fresh.  As we have all have experienced when our favorite books come to life on the silver screen there are certain scenes missing, some characters are blurred or eliminated altogether that is also the case in this film.  Does this mean that this Mr. Luhrmann has not stayed faithful to Fitzgerald's novel, no, not really?  Does he capture the spirit of the 1920's Jazz Age, no, not necessarily?  Does Baz Luhrmann capture the spirit of longing of lost love, and the shattering of the American Dream, absolutely he does.  Is "The Great Gatsby" worth watching, most definitely it is.  Will you be entertained?  Yes, I believe you will.  "The Great Gatsby" stars Leonardo DiCaprio ("Titanic," "The Aviator," "Shutter Island," "Inception"), Carey Mulligan ("Drive"), Joel Edgerton ("King Arthur," "Star Wars: The Clone Wars"), Isla Fisher ("Now You See Me"), Elizabeth Debicki, and Tobey Maguire ("Spiderman," "Pleasantville").  The film comes in two flavors, 2D, and 3D and has a PG-13 rating.

Moulin Rouge!" director Baz Luhrmann who along with Craig Pearce ("Moulin Rouge!," "Romeo + Juliet") took some artistic license in several places in the setup of the narrative.  Using the concept of Nick Carraway writing a memoir from a sanatorium in order to rid himself of the demons from his time in New York, allows the audience to see the summer of 1922 through the emotionally strained, morally drained, yet gilded eyes of disillusionment.  Cinematic ally, the scenes become more intense, more colorful, surreal, louder, garish, vulgar, and yet strangely beautiful.  Another device the director uses, in his attempt to stay honest to Fitzgerald's words is that at times when Nick is thinking aloud about what he remembers, Fitzgerald's words appear as if typewritten upon the screen, word for word.  In the film, as in the book, Luhrmann reminds us "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.”  Nick goes on to say, "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, you remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you have had.”  With this, Nick recounts for us his move to New York, leaving behind a literary career and the Mid-West for the promise of New York and the easy money of a bond salesman on Wall Street.

The Great Gatsby | A Constantly Racing Mind

The actual plot of Fitzgerald's Gatsby is really not very remarkable.  It is Fitzgerald's prose and elegant phrasing that makes "The Great Gatsby" great.  Fitzgerald’s words don’t necessarily transfer to film easily unless it comes in the form of dialog.  In many cases in the book, it was Nick's descriptions where the prose flowed easily and fluidly.  Luhrmann attempts to do this visually and with his choice of music.  What happens sometimes is too overpowering visually but nonetheless exciting.  For the most part Luhrmann maintains many of the symbols and motifs that are prevalent in the book and in some cases embellishes them.  For instance, after moving into a cottage in the West Egg district of Long Island, where the new money lives, Nick's description of life take on a certain hopefulness that are repeated symbolically throughout the film.  Nick introduces us to Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) a classmate from Yale, and his wife Daisy (Carey Mulligan).  Nick and Daisy are also cousins and childhood friends.  Our introduction to Daisy is surreal and filmed in almost a haze.  Tom and Daisy live in a mansion on the old-money East Egg section of Long Island, coincidentally just across the bay from Nick's Cottage.  Major plot points are covered such as the dinner with Tom, Daisy, Nick, and Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki), Daisy's Golf Pro friend.  During dinner the phone rings and Tom gets up from the table to take it in private.  Unlike today's cellphones, telephones in those days, were large stationary and sometimes graceful apparatuses that people used for communication.  The phone motif occurs at various points in the film indicating trouble or change.  In this case, as Jordan tells Nick, after Daisy has gone after Tom that it was Tom's mistress from New York calling. 

The Great Gatsby - Tom, Myrtle and Nick At A Party | A Constantly Racing Mind

Luhrmann retains the theme of class inequality throughout the film.  When Tom takes Nick into the city by way of the Valley of Ashes, that place between West and East Egg, a desolate place where the poor George (Jason Clarke) and Myrtle Wilson live.  With Nick as a witness Tom and  Myrtle journey to New York where Tom has an apartment where he and Myrtle can party.  Some may disagree with Luhrmann's casting choice of Tobey McGuire as Nick Carraway; however, I think McGuire still maintains that deer in the headlights naive look, and that sense of wonder and desire that we remember from "Pleasantville."  The party that Tom and Nick have with Myrtle is loud, outrageous, and in many ways over the top, reminiscent of my own decadent youth.  Joel Edgerton portrays the aristocratic entitled Yale Graduate and former Polo player Tom Buchanan as a careless, surly, racist, pig.


The Great Gatsby - Cheers | A Constantly Racing Mind

We are introduced to the main character by way of the green light.  The green light is a beacon that shines at the end of the Buchanan's pier across the way from Nick's cottage and Gatsby's castle next door.  Standing forlorn at the end of his dock reaching out, as if to grasp the light across the bay stands Jay Gatsby who throws elaborate parties on the weekends and who remains a mystery to all.  Some say he is this, some say he is that.  A spy one says, of German royal blood says another, all an illusion Gatsby is.  Leonardo DiCaprio is almost 40, yet he still imbues a man of fewer years, but with energy, that drives the character of Gatsby as Alexandre Dumas's Edmond Dantès in "The Count of Monte Cristo.”  Like Dantès, Gatsby is a self-made man and we meet him in all the celebratory pomp that we first met Edmond Dantès, fireworks and all.  Jordan and Nick meet Gatsby at one of his parties and unlike Dantès, Jay's introduction is a bit more subtle.  Gatsby greets Nick with one of the many "old boy" that we will hear throughout the film.  Already Nick finds himself caught knowing the truth about Tom's affair with Myrtle and his loyalty for his cousin Daisy.  Nick will find himself in a similar situation between Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom.  Jordan Baker's part in the film is reduced to somewhat of a narrative facilitator, filling us in where Nick cannot.  The tall, lanky, lithe Elizabeth Debicki is very reminiscent of a 1920's flapper, but all her characteristics portrayed in the novel are gone from the film.  She is just there.  Another interesting casting choice was that of Meyer Wolfsheim.  Like the real life Arnold Rothstein, who actually did rig the 1919 World Series, is Jewish.  However the casting India's Amitabh Bachchan in the part is divine. 

The Great Gatsby - will.I.am - Bang Bang JZ Lana Rey Beyonce Andre 3000 | A Constantly Racing Mind

In order to make the Jazz age relevant to a modern audience Baz Luhrmann's choice in music is somewhat anachronistic.  Using will.i.am's "Bang Bang" to drive the rhythm of the party, the deep booming of the drums that drives the Charleston Flappers into an orgiastic frenzy, in my mind works perfectly.  Illegal booze flowing to the sounds of Fergie + Q Tip's "A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)," or the wistful somber scenes to Lana Del Rey's "Young And Beautiful.”  My only issue with the music is with Beyoncé x André 3000's rendition of Amy Winehouse's "Back To Black.”  I found it disturbing and the only song out of place, otherwise the mix of hip-hop and the pseudo Jazz sounds play well with the images and move the mood and the picture in the direction that I think Luhrmann desired.

The Great Gatsby ~ Nick and Jay Driving | A Constantly Racing Mind

Visually the images that Luhrmann presents are somewhat stunning in way that they evoke the style of the 1920's Art Deco Jazz Age that probably never was.  The images of throngs of people in a debauched revelry inundate the mind and senses.  Images that take your breath away of Gatsby's driving through Long Island into New York that could momentarily nauseate the viewer.  Images of Gatsby's beautiful castle and the opulence within, reminds one of Xanadu when laid empty and void in the end.  Views of Ash Valley that is mystical in some ways yet utterly desolate.  Or, images such as the Eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg on the billboard, watching as God watches when Tom and Myrtle commit their sins.  Or when, near the end, Gatsby and Daisy come racing through the valley and there is a terrible accident.  Images throughout the film of African Americans in the background either laboring with pick axes in the rubble of the valley or in the city playing the Jazz trumpet longingly in vivid color on a balcony.  We see splendid images of characters in their fine tuxedos, and the women in their dresses, short hairstyles, and flapper hats showing off their newfound freedom and a new sense of feminism.  By the end of "The Great Gatsby" I was inclined to think that, I too, should own a Tux.  Luhrmann's editing and pacing keep the story from plodding, however, he treads slowing and taking time during the moments that require the attention they deserve.  Like the scenes that display the awkwardness between Gatsby and Daisy at their initial encounter about half way through the film. While at other times, the film’s pacing is fast and almost exhausting, particularly during the party scenes.

The Great Gatsby ~ Nick, Jay, Daisy, and Tom | A Constantly Racing Mind

Watching "The Great Gatsby" for the sake of pure entertainment is how one should approach Mr. Luhrmann's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel and to try to enjoy it for what it is. It is a film that depicts the decline of the American Dream in the 1920s, however, it can also stand for our own times as well.  Even today, Americans are still suspicious of what we feel of the one percent and the hollowness of the upper class.  What we can all get from this adaptation is that in the world even today there is much style, opulence and over-hype that is but a facade hiding the decadence and the emptiness that lies below the surface.


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Movie Data
Genre: Drama
Year:  2013
Staring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Tobey Maguire
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Producer(s): Lucy Fisher, Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Douglas Wick
Writer: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearc
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 143 minutes
Release Date: 5/10/2013

The Great Gatsby ~ Main Cast | A Constantly Racing Mind