The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Rating: 3.5/5

Baz Luhrmann is known for making beautiful films, and The Great Gatsby is no exception. The film is a polished homage to the roaring twenties that emphasises aesthetics over source material.

The story follows Nick (Tobey Macguire) as he befriends the mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is consumed with his love for Daisy (Carey Mulligan). In this film adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s eponymous novel, Gatsby discovers that the “American Dream” is not easily realised.

The film is grandiose and fast paced, though unlike Luhrmann’s previous offerings Gatsby doesn’t induce whiplash. The costumes and sets are gorgeous: Jay Gatsby’s parties are extravagant, boozy and, for me, the highlight of the film. You can almost smell the hedonism – it seems Fitzgerald’s novel was resurrected just for the party scenes.

Obsessive and unswervingly optimistic in his belief in Daisy’s love, DiCaprio makes a decent Gatsby. However, it is when Gatsby’s façade cracks that DiCaprio is at his best. His performance is most compelling whenever the dream threatens to crumble and the terrified Gatsby appears. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Daisy. Carey Mulligan is far too cute and likeable and Daisy needs to be more fickle and indifferent. Her portrayal did a disservice to the story; the gap between the actual Daisy and Gatsby’s imagined version should be obvious.

Fitzgerald’s prose is well incorporated into the film. Most noteable is Nick’s line: “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life,” uttered as he observes a circus of New Yorkers through their apartment windows. The Great Gatsby does have some appreciation of the original novel.

When reading the novel you have to work to uncover the symbolism but there is no similar payoff in the film – at one point Gatsby literally reaches out for Daisy’s green light. Look! Symbolism! The audience isn’t able to find meaning in the story for themselves; instead Lana Del Ray finds it for them. The subtlety and core of the story is lost amongst the opulence. Gatsby is an epic adaption that lacks sincerity.

The Great Gatsby was directed for spectacle. Just like the twenties, the film has more style than substance. It’s a grandiose film, but a little heartless.
This article first appeared in Issue 14, 2013.
Posted 6:05pm Sunday 7th July 2013 by Ella Borrie.