Sunday, June 2, 2013

Period Drama Challenge Review #2: The Great Gatsby

Some film adaptations of books alter the story to the point that they bear little resemblance to the story they're based on.  For me, Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby is a refreshing change, as it is impressive in its dedication and faithfulness to the original text.  Luhrmann's film definitely does F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel justice, for which I am especially glad, because it is one of the best novels in American literature.  In mid May, I went to see The Great Gatsby in the theater.

The Great Gatsby (2013).
I had heard that this movie received poor reviews from critics, but was generally appreciated by the audience.  My conclusion is that the critics do not appreciate nor understand the artistry in Luhrmann's film, nor do they understand the book it's based on.  The audience's approval is more important than theirs anyhow.  I am prepared to admit, though, that this film is something of an art film and perhaps doesn't fit the general formula expected in the movie industry.

The Great Gatsby stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, and Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan.  Leonardo DiCaprio's portrayal of Mr. Gatsby is spot-on.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Mr. Gatsby in The Great Gatsby (2013).
He smiled understandingly - much more than understandingly.  It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life.  It faced - or seemed to face - the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.  It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.-  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
All of the actors and actresses portray their characters so vividly, it feels like the book has come to life.  It's as though each scene leaps out from the pages of the book onto the screen.

Visually, this movie is impressive and, to quote Jordan Baker (played by Elizabeth Debicki), "kind of takes your breath away", with its stunning and lavish style, flourish, and bursts of vibrant colors, which I think really express the attitude of the Golden Age of the 1920's.

The movie is very artistic in its visuals and focuses heavily on colors and symbolism, such as the eyes/glasses of Dr. Eckleburg, and the green light, just as F. Scott Fitzgerald did in his book.  Regarding the blue eyes, arguably the most important symbol in the book, the movie hints that it follows the "eyes of God" theory, which some critics have put forward, but basically leaves it open to interpretation.  Luhrmann's film seems to focus on the relationship between Daisy and Mr. Gatsby, which I really appreciate.  The director also does an excellent job of creating the chaotic, uneasy, extravagant, and loud atmosphere which typifies the period.


This is of course intentional, and I believe Luhrmann succeeds, since I've heard some people say they feel the movie is too loud and in their face.  The modern music heightens this effect of feeling overwhelmed with the energy and hysteria presented on screen during the party scenes.  The throbbing pace of the modern music, such as the song "A Little Party Never Killed Nobody", which has a mixture of swing, Hip-Hop, and Dubstep, echoes the pace of the story.

New York, 1922.  The tempo of the city had changed sharply. The buildings were higher. The parties were bigger. The morals were looser and the liquor was cheaper. The restlessness approached hysteria.
Stylistically, I love this film.  Some say they don't like the swift cuts Luhrmann often uses in scenes, but that is simply his editing style.  He is also known for combining contemporary music with period movies, so anyone surprised by the use of modern music in The Great Gatsby is obviously not familiar with his style.  I think the contemporary music fits this movie perfectly; it would not be the same without it.  Another aspect of The Great Gatsby that some people think unnecessary, is the use of words on the screen, which occur in scenes when the narrator, Nick Carraway, is shown writing the story.  I think this is beautifully and artistically done.  It's aesthetically pleasing to see the words drift away like snow into the background in the scene depicted below.  It is yet another testimony to how faithful this movie is to the book.  To me, Nick Carraway recites the lines of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel like poetry.  It really makes me realize how beautiful Fitzgerald's writing is.  It's a tribute to the original novel - so much of the script comes from the novel's pages.

Some people think the use of Rap music in The Great Gatsby is unfitting, and believe music that was popular at the time should have been featured instead.  There really is quite a lot of authentic style '20's music in the movie (although much of the '20's music used is newly composed rather than lifted from the actual time period), but there is also modern Rap.  What these people don't realize, is that the blending of '20's and modern music is a brilliant concept.  Rap music and Jazz have a connection.  Rap was inspired by Jazz, and both music styles have flourished in African American culture.  Jazz was looked down upon in the 1920's, and Rap is looked down upon by some people nowadays.  The choice of Rap music in the movie bridges the gap between past and present, showing the similarities between then and now.  Then, people were experiencing the Jazz Age, and now, we are experiencing the age of Rap and Hip-Hop.  Luhrmann pointedly draws the parallel between the twenties and the thousands, by showing how the themes are still relevant today.  America remains materialistic, we have maintained our careless attitude, and the rich still party on.  We are still experiencing ups and downs in our economy - the dizzying heights and the depressions and recessions of capitalism, and we still seem to look toward the illusion of the American Dream, like the unrealistic and unattainable dream represented by the symbolic green light that Gatsby reaches out for across the harbor.  F. Scott Fitzgerald's critique of corrupt American society still applies.  This parallel is emphasized throughout the film.

The modern music that throbs during the party scenes is used purposely to create the alarming, loud, and chaotic effect that Jazz had.  Luhrmann uses modern music to make us feel as people in the 1920's felt about Jazz music.  Another reason Luhrmann uses the music he does is because it's his style.  Once again, anyone who is confused by his decision to feature modern music is most likely not aware of the director's style.  Luhrmann directed Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Moulin Rouge! (2001), in which he also used modern music to express themes and emotions.  In many of the songs featured on the soundtrack of The Great Gatsby, 1920's-style music is melded brilliantly with modern-day music, in songs like "Love is the Drug", "Where the Wind Blows", and "Crazy in Love".

"Love Is the Drug" by Bryan Ferry and The Bryan Ferry Orchestra:

"Where the Wind Blows" by Coco O. of Quadron:

"Crazy in Love" by Emeli Sandé and The Bryan Ferry Orchestra:

And then, there are my top three favorites.  These three songs capture the themes of The Great Gatsby very well.

1.  "Young and Beautiful" by Lana Del Rey:

2.  "Over the Love" by Florence and the Machine:

3.  "Love is Blindness" by Jack White:

Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby brilliantly brings to life F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel.  I expected to love this movie walking into the theater, and I was definitely not disappointed walking out.  I suppose it would make sense to say that if you are not a fan of Luhrmann's style, you should not expect to like this movie, but then I am not really a fan of Moulin Rouge!, and I love this film.  The Great Gatsby is now one of my favorite movies.  I hope to see it again and I recommend it.


  1. I'm so eager to see this, but the timing just hasn't worked yet. But I'm so glad to read a positive review, as I only know one other person who really liked it. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Everyone I know who went to see The Great Gatsby praised it afterwards, except for one. A lot of people had fun wearing 1920's outfits when they went to the theater, so I felt it was a positive experience.

  2. Nice review! I'm glad you loved it, I wish I could've, but Luhrmann's style just didn't work for me. I missed the subtlety. But man, did it look good! And I totally agree with everything you said about the music! Thanks for sharing the songs! :)

    1. Thanks! Luhrmann's style definitely isn't for everyone. I think anyone who has seen the movie can agree that visually, this movie is very impressive. I'm really glad you agree with me about the music! :D

  3. I just saw it for the second time. I enjoyed it that much. I've also seen both the Robert Redford and Toby Stephens versions recently. And although this movie isn't perfect, I believe it is better than the two previous versions. I don't think subtlety works for a story like "THE GREAT GATSBY".

    1. I agree completely!! :) I don't think Fitzgerald's book was subtle, so it made sense to me that The Great Gatsby (2013) wasn't subtle either.

  4. Great review. I really enjoyed this film. I'm glad to hear that you agree!