The Great Gatsby, directed by Baz Luhrmann, was mighty disappointing. I was so bored, just waiting for it to end. My sister, who had seen it the day before and fell asleep, fell asleep again. I just sat with wide eyes wondering how Leo could do this to his career.
But when I really started thinking about it, I couldn’t come up with a good, concise reason why it was bad. It was slow, yes, but many movies are slow and not terrible. And anyone who has read the book knows that The Great Gatsby is sooooo very sloooowwww.
Continuing to think about it, the movie actually did almost everything right, with two big flaws, and one fatal flaw.
What the movie did right:
The Cast: Leo D, Spider-Man, and Carey Mulligan (Whovians will know her as one Sally Sparrow) blew their roles out of the water. DeCaprio played Gatsby with all the charm and schmooze and desperate hope that the character demands. Toby Maguire played the nervous but willing Nick Carroway to a T, and Mulligan was absolutely perfect as Daisy; she absolutely encompassed the character. Looking at her was like looking at the epitome of 1920’s exuberance.
The Costumes: To. Die. For. Costume porn. If you’re the type of person who will see a movie just for the costuming or set design, you will not be disappointed by this film. Flapper dresses and hats I wish were still in style. Elegant and flamboyant, with all the energy the 20s insisted upon.
The Craze: I remember being really confused when I read The Great Gatsby because so many scenes were just literally, out of control crazy. Over the top, expensive, extravagant drunks. This is probably the entire reason Luhrmann was the director of this film, who is known for other chaotic movies like Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet.
“People were not invited — they went there. They got into automobiles which bore them out to Long Island, and somehow they ended up at Gatsby’s door. Once there they were introduced by somebody who knew Gatsby, and after that they conducted themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with amusement parks. Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all, came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission.”
The movie did this exceptionally well. Everything was over the top, too much, too fast, too expensive, too extravagant, too loud, etc, etc. Scenes that in the book were difficult to read because it’s difficult to write craze came to life on the screen and you felt you were going to crazy with them. And it’s a great metaphor for the live’s of the characters. They are out of control and so their surroundings are out of control. Images cannot do this feeling justice, it has to be watched so it can be lived.
Following the Book: It has been a good long while since I read Gatsby but my sisters have read it sooner and tell me it’s pretty spot on. Unfortunately, a book that focuses strongly on emotional connections translates to a boring movie when you’re trying to make that movie a wash of constant excitement. Once the parties stop and Gatsby and Daisy are reunited, it’s a snore fest all the way to Gatsby’s not-so-dramatic death. Why this is so sad is because in the book it’s the opposite , once the parties stopped and the real focus on the relationships began, the book was so much more interesting.
Why I think the movie bombed:
The Big Flaws
The Green Light: This is a personal pet peeve of mine. My original reading of The Great Gatsby in high school was RUINED by the obsession with the damn green light. What does the green light mean? What does it symbolize? Who is it important to? Does its meaning change throughout the book? And it was like the writers of the movie all took the same English class that I did and just had to obsess about the green light the entire movie. There are so many mentions of the green light that I now have a better understanding of the symbolism of the damn light than when it was spelled out to me by my English teacher. And it assumes the stupidity of the audience. We don’t need a dozen references to get the metaphor. It’s about hope and dreams and greed and how things change and ugh.
The Music: One of my FB friends put it this way, “The music killed it for me. It’s just not right hearing Jay-Z while watching a 20’s themed movie!” and I have to agree. The music tried to “modernize” the film but it was the only modern tactic adopted. It’s like when theaters do Macbeth and they use guns and wear traditional garb but still follow the Shakespearean language. It’s off-putting. Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Fergie, and Gotye are just a few of the artists that contributed music to the movie. And again it’s all about the energy and chaos, but a 1920’s romp should have had a 1920’s musical backdrop. For the entire soundtrack click here.
The Fatal Flaw
Narration/Assuming the audience is stupid: Anyone who’s ever been in a class to write anything even slightly creative has heard the phrase, “Show, don’t tell.” This means that instead of telling the reader a character is mad, show them by their actions, etc etc. In movies this is usually not difficult to accomplish because it’s all visual and dialogue. But because Gatsby is a long and actually fairly complicated story, Luhrmann decided to have Carroway narrate the entire film like he does in the book. The problem here is that having a movie narrated the entire damn time takes away from your ability to immerse yourself into it. You are made to sit in place of the narrator rather than the characters and because of that you feel like you’re on-the-outside-looking-in the entire time. If there was symbolism here, about looking through the window into other people’s lives, it backfired horrendously. Taking artistic license to get us out of Carroway’s head and more into Gatsby’s and Daisy’s would have made the film tenfold more enjoyable.
The other issue with the narration is that it takes away the from the audience’s ability to infer the message. At the end of the movie Carroway spells it out for the audience who has been watching for long enough to figure it out for themselves.
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
Yes, a direct quote from the book, but it summed the movie up so tidily that it left something lacking. And now that I think about it, the direct book quotes were another issue. Every time someone said something that was from the book it was so jarringly obvious. It was like the writers weren’t good enough to match Fitzgerald’s genius lines so everything was so bland and average that every time a Fitzgerald line was spoken it was so transparent you wanted to continually facepalm. It didn’t flow. And it was boring. Man oh man was it boring.
So there you have it. The Great Gatsby did a lot right and a lot wrong. My overall reaction is something along the lines of this: