Went to see the new Baz Luhrmann version of THE GREAT GATSBY last night.
The film is doing good business, but getting decidedly mixed reviews from the critics. Some love it, some are cool, a few are tearing it to pieces. And the sides don’t necessarily line up with those who liked or didn’t like the source material, the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Count me with those who loved it. I think this is a great film. AND a great and faithful adaptation of the novel, which is not necessarily the same thing. I’ve never seen the two oldest versions of GATSBY, but the Luhrmann films stands head and shoulders above the beautiful but curiously empty Robert Redford/ Mia Farrow version.
Visually, this GATSBY is just amazing, something even its harshest critics have been forced to allow. (Though some of them do not like that). I don’t think it would be correct to say that it brings 1920s New York to life, since I doubt that 1920s NYC was ever so saturated with color, life, sound. This is a dreamscape, everything bigger, brighter, noisier, drenched in life and color… but that’s perfectly appropriate here, since the entire narrative is couched as Nick Carraway looking back on a formative time in his life, and dreams are always more intense than reality. Golden ages are never as golden as we remember them.
I’m a word guy first and foremost, though, and it is the words that sing for me here. There are a lot of Fitzgerald’s own words in this GATSBY, in the dialogue, in the voiceovers, in the frame, and that’s more than okay with me. There’s never been a more lyrical writer than F. Scott and that lyricism is captured here.
The performances were also terrific. Carrie Mulligan’s Daisy made me understand Gatsby’s obsessions in a way that the Mia Farrow’s Daisy never did; I would be have been obsessed as well. I will confess, I had my doubts about Leonardo diCaprio going on. The central flaw with the Robert Redford GATSBY is Redford himself. A fine actor, certainly, but far too handsome, graceful, self-assured, and in command of every scene to be convincing as Jay Gatsby. Robert Redford is one of the golden people, and Jay Gatsby is desperately TRYING to be one of the golden people, to aspire to everything that comes naturally to Redford, and that distinction is crucial… and ultimately as one of the things that sank the Redford film. I was afraid the Luhrmann version would suffer the same way. I’ve liked Leonardo diCaprio ever since I first saw him in THE QUICK AND THE DEAD (a guilty favorite) as The Kid, but in that, in TITANIC, and in all his major roles, he’s comes across as cocky, brash, self-assured, handsome, with a swagger to him that suggests that he knows who he is and is unafflicted by doubts or fears… all of which is the antithesis of Gatsby.
He wasn’t here. This is a new, mature Leonardo, as I have never seen himself before, and he does a great turn here. The Kid and Jack and all of those vanish, and there’s only Gatsby… trying so hard, dreaming so fiercely.
I loved it.
And at the end, it broke my heart, the way the novel always does ever time I reread it, the way it did the first time I read it, back in the early 70s.
Now I will admit, I am prejudiced. This is one of my favorite books. This is a book that has vast personal meaning to me, one that has affected me deeply. The romantic in me identifies strongly with Jay Gatsby (and sometimes with Nick Carraway). I know what it is to chase after that green light. So I will not pretend to be disinterested.
But I love the book, I love the story, and I loved this movie. Go see it.
“… And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter !” tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning !” So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”