Today’s timehop–an app that unearths social media posts of yesteryear–featured a slew of facebook posts that read the following: “GATSBY GATSBY GATSBY GATSBY!” “GATSBY” “#GATSBY” “WTF WHY IS GLORIA ESTEFAN TRENDING BEFORE GATSBY?!” Apparently, the first preview of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby was released a year ago, and apparently my opinion on the film was predetermined from the very start. Capitol letters, hyperbole, and blind obsession. Thus, I feel it is my ethical obligation to begin any review of the film with this disclaimer: I am obsessed with The Great Gatsby, and I decided long ago to champion the 2013 film as the ideal adaptation. And while I believe 4 years of film school and 23 years of critical thought have trained me to be an unbiased judge of the arts, I know that Gatsby is different.
Although the film was flawed, I am willing to forgive everything because I am inclined to forgive beautiful things. Unfortunately, other people are inclined to dismiss beautiful things and I have read some reviews that present The Great Gatsby as over-stylized and underdeveloped—a 3D diorama designed by a pontific prep student who didn’t bother to read the book before sacrificing $180 billion worth of glitter to depict the whole hollowness and futility of wealth trope. Okay, so it’s a little ironic, but like, A for effort, right?
But I think these reviews are a little ironic, too. “There’s too much glitz and glam, not enough substance!” they cry. “The baroque dressings distract from the depth of characterizations,” they lament, “It was tasteless, misguided …”
Yeah, okay. But you know what else is misguided? Just about everything Jay Gatsby ever did.
At its most basic, The Great Gatsby is a story about a man who is too much … too much money, too much spectacle, too much hope. “You expect too much!” Daisy cries, identifying his fatal flaw before she ultimately chooses Tom over our hero. To me, the fact that the film reviews reflect the exact same failings is the biggest accomplishment. This film is an Oxford man in a pink suit. Books with the pages uncut. It almost passes as the real thing, and in doing so, it passes as Gatsby.It is not only an adaptation, but an avataration.
To sprinkle in some psuedo-semiotics, the sign–the film itself–is determined and designed by the designatum–the meaning the film. Baz cleverly designed The Great Gatsby so that its critics become yet another member of the rotten crowd, dismissing Gatsby as too much, too, too much. They probably wouldn’t come to his funeral either, while there are a select few owl-eyed men who acknowledge the farce with awe and admiration. I’d like to think of myself as one of the owl-eyed men.
I’ll admit, this theory of mine doesn’t excuse the horrible narrative frame. I just look the other way on that one, sort of like the epilogue of Deathly Hallows never happened, and Community got cancelled after season 3. As screenwriters, we all need to stop using the whole “the film you are watching is actually a story the writer protagonist wrote” construct. It never works. It’s always clunky and awful. Let’s stop. Please.
… She says, knowing full well that two of her two scripts use this exact frame. WHATEVER, GUYS.
Regardless of the missteps, however, this is easily the best Gatsby adaptation out there, and probably one of the best—or at least most interesting—classic lit adaptions in a while. This is how I see it: Baz Luhrman is new money and Fitzgerald is old, just as film is the new medium and the great American novels the old. Not to say one is better than the other— this is America, money is money, and I’ll take it anyway I can get!
What I loved about Gatsby is that Baz Luhrmann managed to adopt Fitzgerald’s literary metaphors and adapt them into visual motifs, while also encouraging brave choices from the actors that reawakened the story. Seriously, the acting inspired new interpretations of a text I thought I had all but figured out. Carey Mulligan’s beautiful shirt moment was staggering, and her generous portrayal of Daisy Buchanan may just vindicate my years at her defense.
And Leo introduced a Jay Gatsby tailor-made for a psychiatric study on the God Complex. Jay was cray-cray in this movie! This film teased out nuances of delusion and madness that Sophmore English had to cut in order to package him into a nice, neat paradigm for the American hero. Comparing Robert Redford’s Gatsby to Dicaprio’s is like comparing Cliff Notes to the actual novel. A cardboard cutout to flesh, bones, and monogrammed cufflinks.
I will agree with the critique that Nick wasn’t very strong a presence in the film, and I am upset his sexual ambiguity was sanitized. In an era where the bromance has become its own genre, it doesn’t make much sense to cut out the homoeroticism of their friendship, or the classic cigarette search scene at the close of the penultimate chapter. And what a tease to include the photographer, but have Nick pass out not in his bed, but on his own wicker bench. Cop out, Baz. You dishonor the memory of your cross-dressing Mercutio.