Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby”: review.



Always ahead of the times, I have finally managed to watch the film adaptation everyone has been talking about. Based on the novel that I have fallen in love with over the last three years or so, The Great Gatsby has caused a surge amongst film critics and the viewing public in general, as Baz Luhrmann puts a modern and refreshing spin on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s timeless literary classic.

For those of you who haven’t read the novel, I highly recommend that before spending money on your cinema ticket, you spend a good few days trying to read the book. However, this should be the case for any film adaptation of a novel – it is well worth grappling with the beauty of the words on the page before venturing in to watch a movie which just looks cool. It is evident to all lovers of The Great Gatsby that the novel already has an unexplainable, special quality about it that the movie will never achieve – these were also my preconceived notions. I began watching the movie believing that it simply could not match up to the wonderful novel that is my Gatsby. Yes, I actually call it this. Over the years, let’s say I have formed quite the emotional bond with it.

However, I watched it, and was left with sheer happiness in my heart, and of course, sorrow at the ending (which, by the way, was beautifully depicted). So, I now dive into my review of The Great Gatsby. It’s not going to professional and will probably be slightly disordered. Enjoy.

I’ll start off with some negative aspects and get these out of the way so we can get to the good bits. The narration of Nick Carraway in the movie is something I thought was a bit disappointing. In the novel, he is a by-stander and narrator, but of course a film adaptation requires a back-story of some sort for the narrator…yet I was a little let down by Nick’s. He seemed to suffering from some sort of mental instability, rendered slightly mad and talking to a psychiatrist about his issues, and of course, predominantly about Gatsby. I didn’t quite understand why this happened, as he didn’t seem that unstable when narrating everything, and he definitely didn’t seem like he needed to be in an environment where he was given a patient’s journal in order to record his thoughts, which then spiralled into a complete re-telling of the events of that unfortunate summer. I guess I would have liked to see him somewhat reflective yet happy, healthy, and in an environment which was hopeful, full of promise. Here, he just seemed depressed beyond measure. It took away from his narration in the novel. On the other hand, I guess Luhrmann was emphasising the impact of Gatsby’s death on the only man who stayed loyal to him, even on his deathbed. With this view in mind, it becomes quite touching that Nick has been so emotionally jolted by the events. Nonetheless, I still think it was slightly odd and could have been perfected.

I also think that Nick’s relationship with Jordan should have been touched on, if not shown properly. In the movie, there was no indication that there was a romantic relationship between the two. This was a little disappointing, because the novel is also about Nick and his quest to find and make something of himself and become someone. Of course, the protagonist we are all interested in is Gatsby himself, but this shouldn’t mean that the narrator and his journey is completely obscured. It was a little sad that his character was marginal, when actually, it is of huge significance. It was also rather irritating that the line Daisy should have said where Pammy, her daughter, “talks and eats” was given to Nick – Daisy seemed less victimized and more innocent because of this, when readers of The Great Gatsby know that she is in fact, an indecisive, pretentious woman who causes chaos and leaves without even a backward glance.

Also, Gatsby’s funeral could have been more depressing. When he was squished into a coffin I felt a little annoyed. It needed less cameras and more “I’m dead and no one cared about me”.

Now, for some of the positives. Luhrmann first impressed and then blew me away by representing the 1920s Jazz Age at its best. The vibrancy and utter brilliance of the parties, the ever-lasting energy, the disorder and chaos, the strange men and women who came to Gatsby’s party without a care in the world, the dancing and singing complimented with colours bursting on the screen and forcing one to sit up and watch with eyes wide open. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face! Nor could I allow my eyes to settle on just one man or woman – I was continually trying to absorb every single thing being shown to me, not wanting to miss out on something for fear that I’d miss out on everything. It was all shot exquisitely. The extravagance was dazzling and bizarre at the same time. The Jazz Age and its eccentricity had been embodied perfectly in every shot showing Gatsby’s magnificent parties. A zebra in the water especially caught my eye – something which wasn’t even mentioned in the novel. Additionally, the blue of the water and the way it stood out despite the sheer number of people was also a striking image, and Gatsby’s mansion in the movie outdid itself; depicted even more phenomenally than in the novel, my mouth fell open at its sheer elegance. Not only the parties, but the entire movie in general is dominated by shots depicting nature in full bloom and landscapes and settings which evoke a true sense of 1920s America and its economic boom. Even the location of the Valley of the Ashes was, to me, perfect.

The scene where Myrtle dies was also a highlight of the movie for me. The string of pearls which are ripped off her neck and scatter as she is killed by Daisy’s reckless driving are unsettling. The chaos in the scene is enough to startle anyone. However, I would have liked to see her sexuality in her death, as in the novel. She isn’t shown with her mouth wide open and her breast swinging loose…she’s just dead, and that takes away from her overtly sexual character. However, that doesn’t mean Luhrmann shows her as a woman devoid of sexuality. Her costume and the apartment scene do enough justice to her sexual candour. Leonardo Di Caprio epitomises Gatsby. He plays the role sublimely, and I cannot seem to find any fault in his portrayal of one of the most romantic literary figure to ever grace literature. Any other actor would have ruined the movie. The overall casting, in fact, demands commendation. Each character has been played by an actor or actress that reflects the descriptions in the novel and thus plays their part very well – no one seems out of place or awkward.

However, nothing got to me more than the burning green light. Gatsby is almost always linked to it in the movie, perhaps even more so than in the novel. The green light is the first image that is shown and constantly serves as a reminder of Daisy, and Gatsby’s eternal love for her. I loved that Luhrmann focused on it, keeping it within sight and staying loyal to Fitzgerald’s most significant symbol in the novel. I was also very happy with the representation of the brooding eyes of Dr T.J Eckleburg, and upon seeing the billboard showing them, felt a surge of excitement that they were given the significance that they also hold. I felt Luhrmann did justice to the descriptions in the novel, and could not find a fault with the symbolism in the movie. Even in the scene after Gatsby covers Daisy with his shirts, and then answers the telephone – a call related to his illegality – shows the swirling of the autumn leaves behind him, which foreshadow his imminent death. More than any other symbol, it was this swirling of the leaves which really caught my attention and made my heart melt a little. Their swirling and presence created for me, a sorrowful atmosphere at a time when Gatsby feels truly happy.

Lastly, the soundtrack of The Great Gatsby is immense. Never during the movie is there silence – as an audience, we receive the full impact of the roaring twenties, as the voices of Will.I.Am, Jay Z, Fergie, Lana Del Rey and Florence Welch weave in and out of the movie and enrich it. The contemporary feel of the songs somehow do not take away from the Jazz Age – you can still hear the blues and rhythms of Jazz lining the entire movie, and Lana Del Ray’s melancholic and nostalgic “Young and beautiful” creates a feeling that tugs at your heart strings. That song is the bread-winner for me. The up-tempo Jazz beats reverberate in your ears and make you want to join in with this age of excessive wealth and materialism; if you don’t feel entranced by the music, you seriously lose out on a music score that is one of the most enjoyable I have come across. Luhrmann does not get carried away with the famous voices he uses for the movie – they are placed appropriately, so as not to take away from the ensuing action and dialogue, and add to the romantic feel of the film which is inescapable. The music is effective and essential.

Overall, the movie does not disappoint. Despite some minor hiccups, it stays loyal to the novel and displays Fitzgerald’s lyrical beauty in splendid fashion on the big screen. This is a must-watch, so I’d be flocking to the cinema if I were you.

Rating: 4/5


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