It’s too much. The movie has been out less than a week, and you already feel like it’s consumed as much air as three seasons of Girls combined. But try to relax — I won’t yell.
I love Fitzgerald’s Gatsby and thought the movie was fine. The problem is that earnest interpretations have given way to ones that have so little to do with the the movie, and sometimes even the book, that it’s silly (for lack of a sillier word). From writers to marketers to musicians (it’s possible that Jay-Z thinks the book was written by Mark Twain), people are willfully ignoring the material for the sake of their own pet agendas, as so often happens with lightning-rod releases.
Here’s the woman who deliberately misunderstands the movie/book to make an irrelevant point about feminism (let’s be very clear here: Daisy isn’t a heroine, Daisy isn’t a feminist, Daisy is a pretty bad person). Yes, Fitzgerald’s women aren’t flappers with a cause; they are shallow and self-absorbed — as most of the background characters in Gatsby are but no one is arguing otherwise. The author’s reacting more to the marketing than to the film itself, which is the worst part about this movie.
I’m not convinced that movie marketers have seen the film they’re selling. I’m fairly sure they watch the extended trailer on mute, then do whatever marketers do that ends with a Prada deal and radio-station-sponsored pool parties in New Jersey. The fact that director Baz Luhrmann and the studio want this to be “the summer of Gatsby,” and for you to have your own hollow, meaningless life epitomized by overspending and alcoholism is just creepy. There are clothing lines and cocktails, and one of Trump’s hotels even has a $14,000 package (inventively called “The Great Gatsby Package”) that includes three nights in a suite, chauffeured limousine service, a magnum of Veuve Clicquot, dinner at Jean-Georges, and Ivanka Trump jewelry. (DID ALL THESE PEOPLE FORGET WHAT HAPPENED IN THE HOTEL SCENE?) For a book that has a lot to say about class and money and opportunity (and a movie that tries to express it all but often fails), this is incredibly tone-deaf. But it will make people money. It will work. And Gatsby would love that.
Here’s the trying-too-hard contrarian who disdains Gatsby and just doesn’t understand what all those amazing minds were thinking (what an idiot T.S. Eliot was!). The author takes things out of context to make the point that America likes this book because it’s short and easy to read, while she doesn’t cause she’s been to Harvard and has read Middlemarch on more than one occassion. Yet the complex things she can’t reconcile in the text are not intentional challenges to the reader (never!) but failings of the author: “There is the convoluted moral logic, simultaneously Romantic and Machiavellian, by which the most epically crooked character in the book is the one we are commanded to admire.” This isn’t about the movie; it’s not even really about the book. It seems to be more about anger at America that could’ve come out through myriad promptings (may I suggest Peeples?).
Then there’s the Pulitzer Prize-winner who has taken the movie waaay too seriously and ends up sounding like a guy on a porch swing with a shotgun waiting for someone to cross him. It’s almost at a point of satire. (Wait, did I read it wrong? Is it satire?)
In reality, the film was a mixed bag — as most films are. Here are some of the pros and cons as I saw them, but I would love to hear yours as well.
- If I had to see that green light one more time, I was going to start yelling at kids in the audience about their damn laser pointers.
- As Christopher Orr says in the Atlantic, “This Daisy is indecisive rather than careless, a co-victim in the story’s central tragedy rather than its principal architect, a smash-ee rather than smasher.” So very true. Fitzgerald’s Daisy is selfish and manipulative, and none of the actresses who’ve attempted to play her seem to be able to reconcile that with the love Gatsby has for her.
- Nick starts the movie (but not the book) recovering from alcoholism, yet he doesn’t drink that much in the film and had only drunk twice before the start.
- It’s hard to make a resonant distinction between new money and old money in an era when nobody but the one percent has any money.
- In Romeo + Juliet, Luhrmann played with the speed and slowness inherent in the text, and it made for a wonderful film. Gatsby has none of that varied tempo — the film is one single pace throughout, which makes it feel endless at times.
- There is no decay of Gatsby or his lifestyle in the movie that is so important in the book. We go from lush parties to one bad day at the Plaza to dead in a half hour at most. The beauty was in that breakdown.
- I’m not completely convinced that Luhrmann understood who Gatsby was, or that he was, in some ways, a figment of Nick’s imagination. Maybe that’s what the asylum in the beginning is supposed to represent, but if so, it’s a muddled metaphor.
- It’s fun and beautiful, and (as always with Luhrmann) the costumes and set designs are delicious. It looks like our wildest party dreams come true, which is so satisfying for those of us who imagine everyone is having more fun than they are, because now that we’ve seen it, we’re over it.
- Leonardo DiCaprio is wonderful and so perfectly Gatsby, with charm and insecurity and delusion balanced in every look and gesture.
- The music works. My father was pre-complaining that the book was written with Cole Porter lyrics embedded and that age of music in mind, but it is still there woven together with the anachronistic warbling of Beyonce. Granted, Jay-Z seems to miss the point at times and mention modern things that have no anchor (Taylor Swift), but none of that gets in the way of the film.
- Baz Luhrmann is funny — funnier than people give him credit for — and there are some wonderful (though infrequent) moments of humor that lightened the load.
If I had a tangent I was eager to go on, it would be about how Leonardo DiCaprio cannot survive a film (Romeo + Juliet, Titanic, The Great Gatsby, Django Unchained, The Quick and the Dead, The Departed, Blood Diamond, Total Eclipse). We just love to watch that boy die, and I’m ready to write a feminist, book-hating, shotgun-wielding post about it. Okay, maybe not.
(Note: a version of this post first appeared on my tumblr.)