The Great Gatsby
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan
Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” filters F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel through the unmistakable eye of a cinema artist, a paragon of stylistic filmmaking excess. Attaching Luhrmann’s name to a beloved source is an inherent gamble; any movie the “Moulin Rouge” director makes is sure to be molded to fit his unmistakable style.
But the Luhrmann aesthetic appears to have been the key to unlocking the mysteries of Fitzgerald’s work, which hasn’t been adapted for a theatrical release since 1974. The sound and fury approach fits this seminal look at the Roaring Twenties, a world of wealth and excess that history proved to be a giant house of cards.
Luhrmann’s “Gatsby” universe is, in every sense, outsized: confetti-covered, lavish parties are scored to Jay-Z; soaring shots above Gatsby’s Long Island home reveal what Fitzgerald called the “wild promise” of the shining city looming in the distance; the lights of Times Square and bustle of Wall Street fill every inch of the wide screen. Beautiful women and dapper men are omnipresent. It’s a film of gleaming surfaces and unabashed luxury, a maximalist portrait of the crème de la crème.
The movie’s fantasy version of a wealth lifestyle fits a fundamental truth of Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), who builds a palatial estate on Long Island’s West Egg (Great Neck) so that he can be woo long-lost love Daisy (Carey Mulligan), now married to the aristocratic Tom (Joel Edgerton) and living across Manhasset Bay.
Gatsby has constructed his entire life around a fantastical notion of what a rich gentleman should be. Dig below the trappings of opulence and you’re left with a walking contradiction: a love-sick pretender and a deeply honest man, an individual with no real idea of how to conduct himself in this world and one who is only sure of one thing: He loves Daisy, or an idea of her, and wants to win her back the honorable way.
This enormous movie is as much of a reflection of its protagonist as its director, offering a window into an exclusive world as it is conceived and formed in a dream. The epic scope sweeps you away even as theflickering green light at the end of Tom and Daisy’s dock, which symbolizes an unhappy future for these characters and the country at large, offers a persistent reminder of just how false it is.
In the end, Luhrmann’s “Gatsby” is infused with the spirit conveyed by Fitzgerald’s narrator Nick (Tobey Maguire): “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”