Was Baz Luhrmann’s take on Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby perfect? Maybe not, but it was visionary, and (for me) unforgettable. With all the Oscar-contenders being released just under the wire, I want to make sure this film garners some appreciation. Here’s why...
1. It Captures an Iconic Story. A Tragic Romance.
What makes this story so powerful is its transience -- the love and the beauty of this one summer, at the peak of the Jazz Age, can’t last. And, like the Jazz Age, it ends tragically and unforgettably. The reader, or viewer, never gets closure. Gatsby dies too young, and without ever understanding Daisy’s true motivations. Nick, as the narrator, is left to interpret the tragic events, and go on living in a society he no longer trusts.
For that reason, my favorite part in the film is the montage of Gatsby giving Daisy and Nick a tour of his house. For a brief time, Gatsby gets his chance at total happiness before it all goes to hell.
2. Great Music That Compliments:
The tragedy: "Young and Beautiful," sung by Lana Del Rey and composed by Craig Armstrong.
The fast-paced, amoral, world: "No Church in the Wild," sung by Kanye West, Jay-Z and featuring Frank Ocean.
The tons and tons of partying: "A Little Party Never Killed Nobody," sung by Fergie.
3. Beautiful Settings
Luhrmann’s wife, Catherine Martin, oversaw both these areas. She wanted the outfits to fit seamlessly with their environments. Remember Gatsby’s gold and silver bedroom? It was like a library for his clothes. All the flashy shirts and suits were just as integral to the architecture as they were to Gatsby’s person.
Gatsby’s Chateau, both in the film and in the book, was based on Beacon Towers, the real-life house of Alva Vanderbilt and William Randolph Hurst. Tragically, "Beacon" was demolished only 30 years after its completion.
The inspiration for Daisy’s house (in the film) is Old Westbury Gardens.
4. Compelling characters (and Actors):
Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby captured a contradictory mix of stoicism, childlike idealism and terrifying rage (ie. when he lost his cool at the Plaza).
Joel Edgerton (Tom Buchannan) added a sad sack quality to the role that almost made me feel bad when his life fell apart. Even though, he had no one but himself to blame.
Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker stole every scene she appeared in with her sharp wit, and magnetic beauty.
5. The Failure of “The American Dream”?
One can debate this question for hours. Yes, it’s true that money is discovered not to buy happiness, but I believe the real moral of the tale is: Don’t fall in love with the wrong woman. That doesn’t really relate to “The American Dream” at all. Gatsby was a carefree young man with plenty of ambition before he met Daisy. He would have been successful without her, possibly legally. He most likely would have lived longer, too.
When combined, the five points mentioned above create an irresistibly luxurious, albeit doomed, fantasy. The vibrant images of a summer romance mixed with great locales, great clothes, and the haunting echo of Lana Del Rey, remind me to live each day to the fullest (#yolo, anyone?) All summers must end, but they’re great while they last, and like Baz Luhrmann’s direction, they're not flawless, but that’s okay.