THE GREAT GATSBY Review

by     Posted 1 year, 129 days ago

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Filmmakers who adapt a novel are not beholden to the major themes of that novel.  They’re free to take away what they want to see and leave the richer aspects of the material behind.  Such is the case with Baz Luhrmann‘s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby.  Where Fitzgerald saw the relationship between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan as a laughable excuse to escape into the past, Luhrmann sees a doomed romance because Baz Luhrmann likes stories about doomed romances*.  And like his previous movies—Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge!, and Australia—Luhrmann is too afraid of actual intimacy, and covers it up in glitter and other shiny objects while laboring under the delusion that it makes the story operatic.  With The Great Gatsby, Luhrmann isn’t adapting Fitzgerald as much as he’s remaking Baz Luhrmann.

Breaking away from the novel, Luhrmann’s version has Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) in a sanitarium.  Nick is haunted by the memory of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), and seeks to work through the trauma by relating the story of a fresh-faced, starry-eyed Carraway coming to New York in 1922 to make his fortune.  Instead, Carraway finds himself figuratively and literally in the middle of the opulence and self-indulgence of his neighbor Gatsby on one side, and on the other side his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her racist, overbearing husband Tom (Joel Edgerton), who is indiscreetly having an affair with Myrtle Wilson (Ilsa Fisher), the wife of sad, oblivious mechanic, George Wilson (Jason Clarke).  Gatsby attempts to lure Daisy by throwing extravagant parties, but his longing for her eventually creates a collision course between all of the characters.

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Fitzgerald’s novel is mostly cold and unforgiving.  It’s a withering (and somewhat hypocritical) critique of a hedonistic society that has indulged in nostalgia, debauchery, and hollow relationships.  The story is also drenched in symbolism, most notably the flashing green light in front of Daisy’s mansion, which Gatsby can see across the bay from his mansion.  In the book, it’s a symbol of longing for something out of the reach and imagined.  Gatsby sees opportunity, hope, love, and a romanticized past that can manifest a romanticized future.  But it’s just a flashing green blub that a desperate man has imbued with meaning.

Luhrmann views Gatsby as a romantic hero instead of a figure who’s pathetic at best, and that’s the filmmaker’s prerogative.  But that’s always Luhrmann’s prerogative, so what makes the story unique is lost in what he’s already shown us three times.  It’s a close sibling to Moulin Rouge! complete with a tortured narrator and big party scenes with a love story crammed in between.  With this kind of approach and desire to repeat himself, we’re left to wonder why Luhrmann didn’t choose from among the countless other novels that embrace the concept of a doomed romance rather than looking upon such a relationship with scorn and derision.

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This could be forgiven if Luhrmann’s doomed romances actually contained love, but that is simply too complex and veers dangerously close to an actual emotion, so the director covers it up with grandiose party scenes.  If nothing else can be said for Baz Luhrmann, it’s that he knows how to put on a show.  His costumes and production design remain as dazzling and effervescent as ever.  They’re also completely devoid of thought or feeling.  Nick doesn’t see decadence in Gatsby’s magnificent parties; he sees wonder and magic as endless glitter rains down upon the guests.  Who has time to feel conflicted when will.i.am is playing?

Placing so much emphasis on these superficial elements would be a sly move from Luhrmann if he didn’t do it in his previous pictures.  Instead, it’s his security blanket, and the results are mixed.  When Gatsby is finally revealed and fireworks go off in the background, it’s delightfully campy.  When Tom slaps Myrtle and the picture goes slo-mo as she falls to the ground, it’s deeply troublesome.  But mostly, the effort put into the glitz and glam turns The Great Gatsby into a series of music videos rather than a love story that actually contains love.

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It’s a regrettable approach especially when you consider the incredible the film’s acting talent.  When Luhrmann takes time to turn down the volume, DiCaprio and Mulligan are fantastic.  DiCaprio perfectly plays Gatsby’s braggadocio and attempts to cover up obvious lies and insecurities.  Mulligan taps into Daisy’s little-girl-lost attitude, although Luhrmann rarely allows us to see the character’s vanity and insincerity.   When the director is finally locked in a room during a climactic scene and forced to give his movie over to his actors, he’s at an absolute loss.  All of the energy goes out of the staging and cinematography.  He just wants to get back to the party.

In some ways, Luhrmann is a perfect match for the material.  His visuals are as crackling as some of the writing in Fitzgerald’s book, and the characters are almost as hollow.  The difference is that Fitzgerald knew his characters were empty on the inside.  There’s no sympathy for Gatsby because the story doesn’t really support it.  He’s a deluded crook and a phony, and these are traits that can only be tolerated insofar as we can tolerate a child for believing in fairies because the child doesn’t know any better.  Gatsby’s fairy is the mystical green light, and Luhrmann deeply sympathizes with his title character.  Gatsby truly believed he could repeat the past.  The Great Gatsby shows Luhrmann can only repeat the past.

Rating: C-

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*I’ve never seen Strictly Ballroom, but his other three features fit this description.




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  • Lex Walker

    Really Goldberg? Moulin Rouge’s love story is just “crammed in between”? It’s at least half of everything in the film – the musical numbers, the character interactions, etc. Seems like you’re doing your best to draw a parallel to support your “remaking Luhrmann” idea by forcing it despite the evidence to the contrary. Don’t get me wrong: The Great Gatsby is a mess, but this was a pretty weak way to point it out.

    • shadypotential

      everyone is pointing that out. maybe you’re just trying to find something to pick on Matt about

      • Lex Walker

        Who else is pointing out that Moulin Rouge’s love story is “crammed in between”? I’m not arguing that The Great Gatsby’s isn’t, I’m saying Moulin Rouge’s isn’t, but in order for Goldberg to make his analogy work he’s essentially asserting the exact opposite of what’s true of Moulin Rouge: it’s a huge bombastic love story above all else.

      • enzofloc

        Relax. Take a deep breath and realize how petty the subject of your argument is. Also consider, in most movies, chick-flicks aside, the love story is crammed in between something, usually power, wealth, revenge, male bonding, etc. It was crammed in the novel. Love stories are subplots 99% of the time.

      • Lex Walker

        Who’s not relaxed? I responded to a light ad hominem by restating my point. Again, not arguing that the love story of Great Gatsby isn’t shoehorned in. Simply pointing out that Moulin Rouge is actually part of that 1% where the love story is the primary plot. It’s a critical review, so when the criticism in question is based on a faulty premise, the review is similarly faulty.

      • Alan Burnett

        “consider, in most movies, chick-flicks aside, the love story is crammed in between something, usually power, wealth, revenge”
        What does generalization that have to do with ANYTHING, specifically Lex Walker’s argument about ‘Moulin Rouge’? He made a direct point about ‘Moulin Rouge’, not “most movies”.

      • enzofloc

        It might have been a better movie if the love-story plot in Baz’s Moulin Rouge had been properly treated. But the actors’ efforts to bring the romance to life was trounced and drowned out by Luhrmann’s insanely over-the-top razzle dazzle. By the looks of it, Gatsby suffers from the same ostentatious direction. The love story is not so much crammed in as trampled over.

      • Alan Burnett

        That’s different, though. You are talking about presentation, not content: the actual CONTENT of the film is the love story, but Luhrmann’s style tends to overstate his thematic and narrative concerns.

      • enzofloc

        Yeah, but in Luhrmann’s defence (and my opinion) the content of any narrative based exclusively on a love story is usually pretty weak which is why they need to be relegated to subplots, fused into comedies, or jazzed-up to the hilt. But while Bazzle-dazzle Luhrmann did a great job spicing up R&J, he hasn’t impressed my with his subsequent fabulousness.

      • Alan Burnett

        But THE LOVE STORY IS NOT A SUB-PLOT IN ‘MOULIN ROUGE’. It’s the PLOT as it drives EVERY character except the Broadbent character who wants to protect the Moulin Rouge. Christian DEPSERATELY loves Satin and wants to be with her, she feels the same way but is obligated to her employer, the Duke wants to possess Satin etc. Presentation vs. Content: the Content of the material is about the important of love, whilst the Presentation is less cerebral.

      • shadypotential

        Moulin Rouge is exactly like Gatsby. get over it.

      • Alan Burnett

        No, I was dealing with SOMEONE’S THOUGHT and THEIR ARGUMENT and their IDEA ABOUT FILMMAKING, but thanks for the brilliant insight that “EVERYTHING IS LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE, EVER”. Sheesh. Lex Walker had a THOUGHT about Goldberg’s review and disagreed with it, pointing out an EXAMPLE i.e. ‘Moulin Rouge’. You seem to be confusing HATING ON GOLDBERG with DISAGREEING with what he wrote. Don’t tell me to “get over it” when you don’t understand what anyone was arguing, OK?

      • shadypotential

        still ranting and not making any sense? lol i’ll let you continue to embarrass yourself

      • Alan Burnett

        Geez, you can’t comprehend other people’s arguments and suggest that Goldberg-hate was the reason for Lex Walker’s VALID point. But – sure – I guess that is EVERYBODY ELSE’S FAULT, huh?

      • shadypotential

        AND he comes back for more. you must really like looking stupid. but continue. i don’t mind. this is humorous

      • Alan Burnett

        “AND he comes back for more.” You are replying too, genius. And simple minds are easily amused, so it doesn’t surprise me that you are so easily entertained. It’s also unsurprising that – because you don’t have an interesting ARGUMENT other than “poor Matt Goldberg” – that you need to PERSONALLY attack others. What are your thoughts? What are your ideas? You don’t have any, which is why you could ONLY see Lex Walker’s post as a personal attack on Goldberg and now you resort to (dim and witless) personal insults.

      • shadypotential

        you have nothing else do you? lol it’s pathetic. you’re so confused and angry writing paragraphs about me it’s okay. we all can’t win lol !

      • Alan Burnett

        I am not angry at you. I pity you because can’t see the fallacy in suggesting it’s “pathetic” to reply to someone’s comment when … you are writing back to me. Frankly, you don’t even have an intelligent ARGUMENT either, with “lol !” (a grammatical error, to boot) being the height of your intellect. Hey, genius, you can EDIT these comments, or don’t you understand why that is a grammatical error? Then again, considering your writing style is “lulz, you are, like, so stupid. Get over it, like, and that’s just, umm, the truth” I wouldn’t re-edit, as it’s fascinating: incoherent, embarrassing, proudly ignorant, but fascinating, regardless.

      • shadypotential

        hey is your english teacher proof reading these essays? lmaooo

      • Alan Burnett

        Is it possible for you to write an insult that isn’t a cliche? “Hey, umm, you have an English teacher … because you’re in school, which is funny, for some reason, and because you are capable of wrting more than two sentences, that makes your writing an essay, like.” And did you really just suggest that you laughed your ass off off off at you OWN JOKE?

      • shadypotential

        still writing about me? owww how sweet!

      • Alan Burnett

        Enjoy throwing hissy fits whenever someone – shock horror – criticizes Matt Goldberg, the only person more pig-ignorant than you.

      • shadypotential

        no hissy fit here. just laughter!

      • Alan Burnett

        Well, as long as ONE person (and only one) is laughing at your jokes …

      • shadypotential

        and that would be your mom!

      • Alan Burnett

        Really?

      • shadypotential

        Really.

      • Alan Burnett

        *sighs*

      • shadypotential

        you actually typed sigh? lmao

      • Alan Burnett

        And you typed a “yo mama” joke because you knew your arguments weren’t good enough to win a debate.

      • shadypotential

        does anyone really give a fuck what happens on the internet? you can call me out every which way and its always going to be hilarious!

      • Alan Burnett

        No, it doesn’t matter. That’s the first time you’ve been right … ever?

      • shadypotential

        i approve of this comment

  • OK

    No surprise… I actually didn’t read the review but I assume it goes Baz takes the visuals to an excruciating level, the performances were over the top and it departs from the book’s message so far that you wonder if Baz even knew the point of it in the first place. But Leo!! Leo was amazing!! I am only guessing, but that could have been anyone’s predictions from day one.

  • Sam

    Decent review. Read the book and am fully prepared to watch this film with low expectations.

  • Grayden

    Yeah, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect this review. Don’t disagree with Goldberg either. This film is disguised under glitz and glamour with not much underneath and I got that from the clips and trailers.

  • Alan Burnett

    “There’s no sympathy for Gatsby because the story doesn’t really support it.”

    Yeah, now we can count literature as a subject that Goldberg knows nothing about. The final passage of the book is one of the most famous in LITERARY HISTORY, yet Goldberg’s analysis of Gatsby ONLY makes sense if we ignore it: ” 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 orgastic future that year by
    year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow 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.” I don’t know, that passage seems pretty HOPEFUL to me, and the sequences empathizes with Gatsby’s need for more in life than money and wealth. Gatsby may have been a crook and a liar, but he was more spiritually honest than anyone else than most others in hat corrupt world which values money and status. Yet Goldberg EMBARRASSES himself once again by trying to prove he knows more than other people.

  • Angel of Death

    “Fitzgerald’s novel is mostly cold and unforgiving. It’s a withering (and somewhat hypocritical) critique of a hedonistic society that has indulged in nostalgia, debauchery, and hollow relationships. The story is also drenched in symbolism, most notably the flashing green light in front of Daisy’s mansion, which Gatsby can see across the bay from his mansion. In the book, it’s a symbol of longing for something out of the reach and imagined. Gatsby sees opportunity, hope, love, and a romanticized past that can manifest a romanticized future. But it’s just a flashing green blub that a desperate man has imbued with meaning.

    Luhrmann views Gatsby as a romantic hero instead of a figure who’s pathetic at best, and that’s the filmmaker’s prerogative.”

    Uh. I’m sorry, but what the hell makes you qualified to critique a novel that’s considered to be one of the greatest works of literature of all time? You’re a 2-bit hack movie reviewer with crap opinions, and you know nothing about literature. You’re here to review a movie, not the freaking book itself. Seriously Matt Goldberg. What the hell is wrong with you? Get over yourself you pretentious piece of garbage.

    • enzofloc

      Have you read it? It’s easily one of the most overestimated novels of all time. Fitzgerald is undeserving of the praise he amassed. His pal Hemmingway shares that distinction. Their novels are for chest-beating Americans who are unable to digest truly great literature.

    • Grey

      He has the same right to criticize a book that you have to criticize his writing. Internets.

    • Grey

      He has the same right to criticize a book that you have to criticize his writing. Internets.

    • Adron Gardner

      You don’t have to have a degree in Literary snob mastery to critique or interpret a book. Like just about anything, I actually think the Fitzgerald book is massively overrated.

      There’s a lot of people who hate Shakespeare, despise Hemingway and think David Mitchell is a hack. They are all right. Free speech man. Free speech.

      Go get your own website and write your own reviews so we can all jump on the comment board and say how unqualified you are to use a computer keyboard.

  • Guest

    This review is mostly based on the film’s loyalty to the novel than the film itself. I’ll look for a second opinion.

    • DP

      ummmm isn’t it an ADAPTATION? comparison is, you know… kind of important???

  • furion77

    Having just seen the movie, the visuals are simply amazing, the acting was top notch and the only bad about the movie was the over the top in movie music song selection. One thing for sure, if you are planing to see this movie you MUST see it in 3D as it is simply jaw dropping.

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