Whether you attended public or private school or were home-schooled or just incessantly listened to the ramblings of the old man next door, everyone remembers nodding off during the classics section of English lit class. Their old-style dialog and dramatic and deep use of tone and plot caused many books to be used as pillows by more modern generation.
“The Great Gatsby” is a recurring book on teachers’ lists and is one of the many books we today leave up to imaginative Hollywood filmmakers to revitalize and interpret.
Baz Luhrmann’s (“Moulin Rouge,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Australia”) version attempts to do this in spades with flashy colors, quick cuts, hastened camera work and extraordinary costumes. All this equates to middling effect as it soon becomes evident that the abundance of Gatsby’s parties is Luhrmann’s excuse to drown the audience in a sea of visuals, washing away any elegance.
At least this was the case for the first half or so of the movie. The colors were vibrant, and the music and wardrobes were breathtaking, with the essence of the ‘20s bursting with an intoxicating roar. But there was just so much “muchness.” Soon, even scenes of nothing but dialog WERE done with a sense of hastiness to the point where a beautiful surface existed with little to no depth.
Now for those of you reading this who have not read the book or seen this or the ‘70s’ film and have no idea what the movie was even about, then you are out of luck. To a recite the plot and all the intersecting characters is a fool’s game. At its heart, though, it is a love story about how we hide ourselves beneath lies and materialism in hopes to hide or attain what we want.
This was told through the relationship of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo Dicaprio) and Daisy Buchannan (Carey Mulligan), and the eyes of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire). It was in this aspect where Luhrmann found his footing.
The second half is a slow, monotonous speed layered with the dramatic tone of the book. The visuals took a turn for the better with a quiet beauty showing its dominance, the most alluring of them all being the scene in which Daisy and Jay locked eyes after five years apart. It was sweet and intimate. This was how the story should have been done. That being the case, this was where that whole nodding off in English class came into play.
No matter how long it took for the movie to fight through rapidly shifting tones and finding the right balance of visuals, there was the fact that the story, no matter how subtextually relevant or romantic, was still stretched beyond all recognition. The characters and their interactions went so far only to go nowhere. And Luhrmann did little chopping of the book, which was relatively for what was an almost 2 and a half hour film.
There was no real winning with this film. The first half was beautiful but hollow, and the second was properly dramatic but duller than unglazed doughnuts. Maybe the film suffered from poor direction or just was based off a too old-fashioned story to be taken for entertainment.
The book seems to do the most good on the shelf of a library, waiting to be opened by a young lad whose is transported to the vibrant world of the ‘20s, who then loses it under his bed for two years.