Monday, May 20, 2013

The Great Gatsby Movie Review: "rich girls can’t marry poor boys."

It was true then, and it's true now. "Rich girls can’t marry poor boys," and poor girls too, if they can help it.
Personally I didn't think Luhrmann's choice to play Daisy was very pretty.  At turns yes, but then perhaps Luhrmann wanted someone who was sort've attractive, but not really.  For starters, Carey Mulligan gives Daisy a big nose. I'm sorry if that sounds mean, the image below certainly looks alright (including her nose), but in the film - perhaps they've done it intentionally, intentionally used an unflattering angle or two to make you ask yourself: is she really that attractive? After all:

"Her voice is full of money," he said suddenly.
That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money — that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it ... high in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl.

Of course the director doesn't mention this as it's probably too on the nose (excuse the pun) again for the audience.  

On the other hand, there is another scene that seems to me almost impossible to execute.  The director and Leonardo di Caprio in fine form do, nevertheless, manage to pull this off pretty well in the film:
"Gatsby had one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it.”

 I've heard that some people didn't like director Baz Luhrmann's version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic masterpiece.  You can't fault Luhrmann for leaving no stone unturned in his attempt to match Fitzgerlad's incredible prose with pretty images.  Amazingly, Luhrmann succeeds to mind, for the most part at least.  My take is that his crucial shortcomings occur early, and are so jarring, they ricochet in one's head in some of those vital formative sets, which does spoil the opening third.

Examples? This is obviously how I see it: Luhrmann's decision to precis the critical opening quote in the book is a literary sacrilege.  He may have felt the original was too on the nose, but by editing it, you tend to ruin the essence - it's kind of like changing the font of Coca Cola or the color of the McDonald's M to orange rather than yellow.  That may seem overstated, but the original text is this:
"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had." He didn't say any more, but we've always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I'm inclined to reserve all judgments.
The movie brutally edits this section, probably hoping not to offend its audience.  But the second flaw is the grainy badly done 1920's montage, trying to demonstrate life during Fitzgerald's 'Jazz Age'.  How do you jump from grainy 1920's black and white and juxtapose that to vivid, crisp, technicolor (in the same time frame)?  By asking us to make that leap, for a critical couple of minutes Luhrmann loses his audience and we are no longer under his spell, but suspecting that we're being duped by too much style (and some of it lacking in style).

In the end, the film is a masterpiece, saved by the story and some beautiful images.  If Luhrman's 1920's montage is terrible, his montage of the young Gatsby is thrilling.  His party scenes are also powerful, and much of Fitzgerald's most beautiful prose is repeated in the film, although a few key scenes are invariably missing (such as this one: In spite of the wives’ agreement that such malevolence was beyond credibility, the dispute ended in a short struggle, and both wives were lifted, kicking, into the night.

It may also have been good to develop a little more on Nick's fixation with the dishonest Jordan Baker:

“I hate careless people. That’s why I like you.”
Her gray, sun-strained eyes stared straight ahead, but she had deliberately shifted our relations, and for a moment I thought I loved her. But I am slow-thinking and full of interior rules that act as brakes on my desires, and I knew that first I had to get myself definitely out of that tangle back home. I’d been writing letters once a week and signing them: “Love, Nick,” and all I could think of was how, when that certain girl played tennis, a faint mustache of perspiration appeared on her upper lip. Nevertheless there was a vague understanding that had to be tactfully broken off before I was free.
Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.

On a personal note, I find the fascination and tragedy of Gatsby and this story about money hits very close to the bone.  I was ensconced myself in two brutal relationships, one in which the object of my affections left me for a corrupt but wealthy scoundrel.  He rewarded her by buying her a huge Beemer, but she looked a little ridiculous, a nineteen year old behind the wheel of a car like that.  My criticisms of her new lover's generosity (based on ill gotten gains) came across as bitterness, and sour grapes. For a while after that I was determined to set aside a few years towards accumulating a fortune, and fast (even though my father had promised to give me a house if I married this girl, evidently he loved her too).  I got as far as Scotland and the plan was to get to work on oil rigs, and do whatever I must, whether in harms way or not, to make my fortune.
But then some little switch inside me flickered out, and I decided that I wasn't going to put my life in service to the fickle fantasies of a beautiful young girl. What was wrong with a partnership, being on equal footing, rather than the man offering his wealth as sacrifice and the woman her beauty (assuming she found herself not attracted to anything besides one's money).  Curiously, a few years later I was the author of another brutal relationship, with my (actually lacklustre) fortune apparently at the source of it.  I bought a ticket and flew another girl halfway around the world to be with me for two weeks.  That gesture alone laid a larger foundation for head-over-heels-love than I thought possible, and from then on we seemed to be on a one way road to a wedding...

In any event, love is rather blind, and even when we love selflessly I think it boils down to a selfish act.  And often one of ego.  Do I look good beside this person?  Does this person elevate me?  What does this person have to offer me?  In a shallow world what greater risk is there than to love someone?

The Great Gatsby - Score: A solid 8/10.

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