Extremely appealing and exaggeratedly creative, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby takes a highly creative and new approach to the classic 20th-century novel, twisting and turning it in ways that heighten its sense of extravagance and dramatizes the danger of love-lorn dreams.
From the off-start, audiences are swept into a highly computerized and digitally-edited world of special effects alluding to 1920s New York with business men clad in suits working Wall Street while flappers and brothel-women climb over men to gain an extra buck or two. The ethereal and dream-like Daisy Buchanan puts this concept so beautifully in a quote from Fitzgerald’s novel: “I hope she’ll be a fool–that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”
The beginning of the film is clearly strange and off-putting as the weird cut-editing in-between conversations and the use of fast-forwarded sequences almost makes the film seem like a cartoon with its actors performing in that illusion. Also, the actors clearly try to equip old-fashioned 1920s American accents, seeming as if they are trying too hard to fit into that world. But, I feel these contribute to the film’s overall sense of artificiality and extravagance. Though everything may seem all “glitz-and-glam,” there is a slight dark undertone of the bleak vastness of 1920s glamor and high artifice that exists in these characters–and society–who achieve reputable recognition through their wealth, money and status.
But, as the film gears towards a more narrative approach once establishing the strangeness of the entire artifice of that world, the humanistic side of Gatsby’s long-sought five-year meeting with Daisy creates a beautiful tale of the tragedy of love affected by 1920s society of marriage expectations and wealth. We see Leonardo DiCaprio work his charm playing the troubled Jay Gatsby as his learned customs of behavior and wealth comes crumbling down the moment of coming into contact with his “dream”–the beloved Daisy Buchanan, played exceptionally charmingly by Carey Mulligan (Blue Valentine, 2010). Naturally, things begin to tie together and make sense of all that has been observed in the beginning to provide answers to ordinary literary questions, such as: Why does Gatsby throw these extravagant parties? What is the significance of the green light over the bay? Where do Tom and Daisy stand in society? And what do all their involvements have to say about 1920s society, maybe even providing a critique of it? And how is it ever so relevant today?
Perhaps Luhrmann knew exactly how to put his own spin on the novel with exasperatingly overdone digitization and elaborate costume-ry. It was almost a Vegas production which, successfully, is able to bring the “magic” and “allurement” of Gatsby’s parties to life. Although the actors did an exceptional job, with added Tobey Maguire portraying the perfectly meek and objective guy-pal Nick Carraway, the film is almost lost to its artistic direction and investment in feeling. But, quite favorably, doesn’t that just pack 1920s American society for ya? A society for art, for wealth, for love, for emotion? It’s a big drunken, bizarre reality that the cast was able to perform charmingly! And having the musical direction curated by Jay-Z added a modern contemporary hip-hop feel that just heightens the sense of debauchery, adding a “cool,” “hip” element to the film that allows it to stay ever so relevant.
Is it the dream girl that you so over-envisioned that pains you? Or is it that ceaseless reaching for that distant dream you so long remember in your past? Is it a moment of ecstasy? A moment you wanted back? Like “boats against the current”? Luhrmann may have gone extreme and brought Hollywood to the scene but, this film was quite amusing. And, isn’t life, after all, just a spectacle?