I am not a film critic, nor would I ever attempt to be. Not no way, not no how. But I put myself out there when I first heard that Baz Luhrmann was directing a new version of “The Great Gatsby.” It was going to suck, I just knew it. Large platter of crow, anyone? Anyone? Me? Yes, me.
Perhaps I am a literary purist or imagined myself to be, at least. Perhaps I felt it was my duty to F. Scott Fitzgerald to detest a glitzy, glam jammed, over the top production of his most famous tome. With modern music, no less? Ugh. No way did I care to see this film. Not about to waste my time and money. Nope. But then something odd happened: people whose opinion I respect seemed to love it. Finally, a close pal whose daughter is a writer for the tv/film industry in Hollywood told me she had screened it and that it was great. She herself has seen it and loved it. She said, “Look, just go see it and check all of your preconceived notions at the door. See it for what it is, rather than what you intend it to be. I know you will enjoy it. Trust me.”
Okay, okay. My mother wanted to see it, so I decided to take her on my last day of vacation. A weekday, it just happens to be chucking down rain. Why not?
What do you say when you had every intention of hating something and you end up loving it instead? “I’m sorry Mr. Luhrmann?” Yes, I am sorry. The movie was phenomenal, actually. Much truer to Mr. Fitzgerald’s book for one thing. And DeCaprio humanizes Jay Gatsby in a way the Redford never has. After seeing Leo as Gatsby, the Redford version seems cold, unfeeling and more of a cardboard cutout than a red-blooded man in a love-of-a-lifetime romance that he has fully embraced as the center of his life. Redford’s Gatsby seems shallow; Leo’s Gatsby has heart, albeit a broken heart. The hurt is so evident in this latest version of Gatsby, it veritably oozes from his every pore.
Leo, hat’s off to you. You deserve the Oscar, my friend. You’ve earned it. And he has. Leo as Jay Gatsby serves up the hopefulness of a human being in a manner that is true not only to human nature, but more importantly to the depth of the character Fitzgerald wrote so eloquently. As I said, this film is leaps and bounds more true to the book than the 1970’s film.
Concerned that too much glitz and glam would spoil the story, I neglected to grasp the true history of the roaring twenties. Glitz, glamour and over-the-top was what it was all about. People drank too much, spent money like it was nothing, ranted, romped and went wherever the spirit moved them. From round-the-world trips to bedding whomever was in their line of sight at the moment. Doubtful there will ever be a time so free in future. Innocence lost. Gone, but not forgotten.
This film is deep. It is haunting, it is brooding, it is above all heartbreaking. With all the freedom, with the acceptable cheating and adultery and crude nature of the time, Gatsby loved one woman and dedicated his life; all he had or would ever be, to Daisy. Its apt when Nick Carroway says that he never met a man who was so full of hope and he knew that he never would again. Gatsby was one of a kind. He encompassed everyones wishes and dreams and in the end, he dies with his biggest dream unfulfilled. He fails to make Daisy his own. Although he had loved only her, she could not deny the fact that she had loved Tom. Never one to give up on his dream, Jay held on to her still, remaining hopeful that she would be his and his alone. Sadly, no.
The end of the film is well-known to all. The pool. The still hopeful Gatsby. Mr. Wilson and his gun. Ending two lives. Two heartbreaks put to rest once and for all. The ending here in Luhrmann’s film is more final, more hurtful, more heartbreaking than ever. You feel it in your soul. Its one of those moments that leaves you silent. Reflective. Smart films do that. This one does it well.
Although the scene in the pool is redolent not only of Leo as Jack in Titanic, slowly swirling and sinking in one more body a water; it also brings to mind the opening/ending scene in Sunset Boulevard. Another man shot and left to float in blood infused water. Another tragic ending. Another heartbreak.
Films like Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” restore ones faith in Hollywood. It’s refreshing to see a movie with heart and spirit rather than hollow junk laced with blood, guts and over-amped aggressors. Gatsby represents another time. It does a good job of representing a classic piece of literature. It gives us a glimpse of what it was like to inhabit the twenties: good, bad and ugly. But most importantly, it gives us hope.