The Great Gatsby
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Starring Leonardo Di Caprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgeton
105 minutes, 2013
Hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital, Nick Carraway tells his doctor about Jay Gatsby, an extraordinary man he encountered in the summer of 1922. The mysterious Gatsby is outrageously rich, but he needs a favour from Nick: to link up with Nick’s cousin Daisy, the woman he has been in love with for five years, the woman for whom he built his “empire”. Daisy married another man five years ago, and, while she is still charmed by Gatsby, she may not be willing to leave her adulterous husband, Tom. All of this leaves Nick to witness a drama that began to unfold many years before…
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A luxurious adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, the new movie by Baz Luhrmann has everything necessary to make the most of its 3D potential: luxurious scenes of car races and parties, and scenes that explore the “imaginary” universe (as in other movies, Luhrmann transforms reality into the abstract). In order to do that, Luhrmann uses extended camera movements to takes viewers from one edge of the shore to the other side of the bay and from the present to the past (and vice versa).
The mise-en-scene is sumptuous with lights and colours that fill the viewers’ eyes (as well as Moulin Rouge), costumes that amaze and dazzle, and music (rigorously anachronistic: hip hop and pop, as well as traditional jazz and the Charleston) that overwhelms the audience, projecting them into an epic dimension.
Despite excellent performances by the main characters (above all, Leonardo Di Caprio, although his interpretation is reminiscent of his previous Howard Hughes in The Aviator) and its fidelity to the novel, the film’s fatal flaw is its inability to involve the audience.
One reason may be that Luhrman utilizes multiple storytelling structures that often keep the audience far from the emotional core. For example, the narrative frame (a legitimate choice as it enhances the narrator’s point of view) should have been more simple or more articulate and poignant. Another reason for this lack of involvement could be the mise-en-scene itself, which draws viewers’ attention and makes it difficult for them to focus on the characters’ feelings. Regardless, the final result is a movie that more resembles a precious object than a story to become involved in.
It’s a pity, because there are many messages within the novel and all of them are interesting: Gatsby’s invincible hope (rather then the money or power, this is what really makes him attractive), his endless desire for fulfilment and happiness, his love for Daisy that collides with his dream of an impossible perfection, and his will to build a perfect world.
In short, not only does this story tell us about the deepest human desires, but also the ways that man tries to delude himself into fulfilling those desires. Indeed Gatsby tells Nick that his love for Daisy is what has prevented him from pursuing his illusion to be God.
These are all themes that the movie deals with. Unfortunately, they all run the risk of becoming lost in a whirlwind of action. Furthermore, occasionally even the style of acting emphasizes the characters’ features (of Tom and his lover above all) so that they appear fake, which ends up being detrimental to the story’s emotional tension.
This movie has the usual positives (many, although most of them belong to his aesthetic approach) and negatives of Luhrmann’s work: tiring to watch even with its quick paced rhythm, emotionally cold despite the romantic nature of the story, and above all, it is unable to touch the heart of the viewers. Unfortunately, the film tries to draw the viewer’s attention with fireworks doomed to fade into the night, just like the green light Gatsby peers at on the other side of the bay.
Problematic elements: Some sensual and violent scenes