The Great Gatsby – DVD Review

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writer: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce (screenplay), F. Scott Fitzgerald (novel)
Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Isla Fisher, Joel Edgerton
Runtime: 143 min
Rating: PG

Baz Luhrmann’s whirlwind movie spectacle The Great Gatsby may not initially appear to have a very strong connection with its source material, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic 1925 novel of the same name. Featuring pounding hip-hop music, barely-there costumes, and over-the-top sets, this film version is clearly a production of the twenty-first century, and lacks any subtlety or sentimentality. Upon closer inspection, however, one realizes that the two works of art may not be as anachronistic as originally assumed. In fact, Luhrmann’s creation is a truly accurate reflection of Fitzgerald’s novel, simply updated so that it maintains its relevance for today’s audiences.

The Great Gatsby

Both the film and book versions of The Great Gatsby tell their story through the eyes, or pen, of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), and are set during the opulence of the roaring twenties. A fresh-faced and naïve Midwesterner, Nick moves to New York and finds himself the new neighbour of the infamous Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), known for his decadent parties and mysterious ways. It is impossible not to enjoy watching DiCaprio perform this role, as he perfectly captures the balance of dashing confidence and tragic innocence that constitute this iconic character. As Nick and the audience slowly uncover the truth behind Gatsby and his revelry, they become familiar with a host of unforgettable characters, such as Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki), Nick’s love interest; Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), Nick’s cousin-in-law; and of course, Tom’s mesmerizing wife Daisy (Carey Mulligan), over whom Gatsby is revealed to have been obsessively pining for over five years.

The Great Gatsby

Director Luhrmann brings his characteristically breathless style to this film, as he did to Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet before it. As with said films, Luhrmann creates an all-out visual and auditory spectacle that is reflective of the opulence he aims to present. The music is edgy, modern, and loud, the visuals are bright and, at times, borderline assaultive, and the sweeping, dipping, and zooming camera never stays still long enough for the audience, like the ecstatic partygoers it captures, to catch a breath, so that we feel as though we are engaging in heady revelry right along with them. Even moments of quiet are imbued with a sense of over-the-top melodrama, as every emotion is presented to the extreme with no hope of nuance. As aforementioned, this is not a sentimental work, and it shouldn’t be. Neither book nor film seeks to convey a grand or traditional love story, but instead present a tragic tale that acts as a warning against the dangers of wealth, excess, and obsession.

The Great Gatsby

Twenty-first-century music and visuals may not appear to be an accurate match for a novel set and written in the twenties. However, one goal of Fitzgerald’s novel was to reflect the over-the-top opulence of the time period. If the film used jazz music and traditional flapper costuming, aspects of the world that pushed boundaries at the time of publication, modern audiences would be underwhelmed and certainly would not be affected in the same manner. Today’s boundaries need to be pushed, in order for an audience to register and understand that which was occurring yesterday. The style of the film, therefore, is not anachronistic per se, but an updated reflection of the original creation. In addition, many lines within the screenplay are borrowed straight from the text, and a frame story sets up the idea that the film depicts the actual creation of the novel itself, further connecting the book with the movie.

The Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrmann’s film version of The Great Gatsby is an exercise in excess, not only in its filming techniques, but also in its subject matter; excessive partying, wealth, and alcohol consumption are all revealed to be dangerous and a lead-up to disaster. An over-the-top style, therefore, is necessary to reflect this material, and the resulting film accurately reflects the atmosphere Fitzgerald so successfully captured in his iconic novel. Audiences seeking a love story may be disappointed, as the film rarely slows down enough to allow its lovers a moment together. However, moments of human truths may be found amidst the chaos, and the result is a film that has an outrageously good time arriving at its undeniably tragic conclusion.

Photo Credits: Warner Bros. Canada