In High School, I was a weird and normal kid. I start the movie review out this way because I believe that along with Huck Finn, The Great Gatsby is the only book that all students in all American High Schools have read. I was weird in the way I actually read the books, I enjoyed reading them for the most part (with the notable exception of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes were Watching God). However, I guess I was normal in that I didn’t fully understand the book. Upon leaving the movie, which both my wife and I enjoyed, my wife bemoaned the fact that had this movie version existed (as opposed to the soap opera that was the Robert Redford version) when we were in High School, she would have understood the book better. However, like most great movies and classic books, the life experience and emotional draw of characters is what is our “in” to the characters. If one cannot relate to the plot or characters, the project is a failure. However, if this is our benchmark, Baz Luhrmann succeeds.
The world of Nick Carraway, played by a not dissimilar Tobey Maguire from Spider-Man 3, is one of innocents and naivety through his narrations at a psych ward. The titular Jay Gatsby is played remarkably by Leonardo DiCaprio and his visage of new wealth plays through expertly. Like most of the audience, I knew the story (from the aforementioned high school assignments), however, like most of the audience, I had forgotten it. With each scene gathering speed, however, it came flooding back.
As with Moulin Rouge, Baz Luhrmann’s over the top style plays well with the excesses and organized chaos of the party scenes at Gatsby’s. However, unlike the often dry slow scenes in Moulin Rouge, the vibrancy of Gatsby remains. The life and joy emanate as the lives involved stagnate. The environment is comforting enough to engulf, but tantalizing and distinct enough for us to separate ourselves from the horrors of these terrible people.
The ability for Nick to remain neutral while Daisy self-destructs, while Tom destroys Daisy, while Gatsby goes too far, amid the shallowness of Jordan (a very poorly defined relationship in the movie) and the distinct awfulness of Tom both tears away Daisy’s humanity and Nick’s hope for that same humanity. If there is one complaint I have for the movie, it is that it places much blame on Tom, but takes too much of the light off of Daisy; at least until the end.
The overwhelming visuals are amazing, the music and the colors are on the mark; it’s all enough to make you cry over how beautiful the shirts are.