This past weekend, a classic tale of love, longing, luxury, lavishness, and loss exploded in all its CG glitz and glamour across our movie screens. Baz Luhrman, the visionary director who gave us Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, returns with his high-octane adaptation of F. Scott Fitgerald's literary masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. Let me say that, unfortunately, I had not read the book before seeing this film. This is something I am actively seeking to rectify. My expectations were laid solely on the director's past work and the strength of the cast.
The story is told through the eyes of Nick Carraway, played by the mild-mannered Toby Maguire, a New York new-be who ends up living next to our title character. His cousin Daisy, played by the (typically) wonderful Carey Mulligan, lives across the bay with her big shot businessman husband, Tom.
Leonardo DiCaprio headlines as the mysterious multimillionaire Jay Gatsby, a man who everyone knows yet no one quite relates to.
Gatsby was a polarizing film. The first 40 minutes or so was so over-the-top with in your face CG stylization, crazy party scenes and camera tricks that left me exhausted by the time the plot actually began to come together.
The next 40 minutes were great for me. The story of Gatsby's love for Daisy and the world he had created in light of that was fascinating. DiCaprio in particular gives a perfect performance here. This may be easy for me to say since he is probably my favorite actor, but take it as a fact; he is superb.
All in all, I was overwhelmed by the style and underwhelmed by the story. Don't get me wrong, CG overload aside, the movie looks fantastic in it's own quirky Luhrman-esque way. This may play out much differently in the book (and I'll be sure to find out when I read it), but by the time we got to the last act of the film, I was not as invested in the characters and their relationships as I should have been.
Gatsby goes for glitz and glory, but it sacrifices its substance in the process, leaving a mostly hollow shell of a movie.
I would love to watch this again after reading the book, though I worry that will up my expectations and the let down will be even greater.
If you can fight your way through the gaudy parties and lavish lifestyles, Gatsby is a tale of the American Dream. It reveals how superficial riches can be next to the longing for love. It's a tale of obsession and resistance to change. The story is not a happy one, and yet movie goers and readers alike are drawn to this tale. Gatsby is a wonderful case study for the longing mankind has for satisfaction.
Gatsby is a self-made man with everything this world can offer, but we find him alone out on his dock, staring intently on the green light across the bay. The one thing he wants the most is the one thing he can't have. We watch the obsession play out as Gatsby leverages his wealth to somehow fill this void.
Mankind was created for something beyond this world. God made every person in His likeness, giving us a unique destiny – to rule over creation with, like, and for God. Sin wrecked this destiny, leaving us in a cracked version of God's original mold. Now we tirelessly strive for satisfaction. The rich and poor alike are equally unsatisfied with their lives, looking for that one missing piece that will fulfill the longing that eats away our insides. Being reunited with our Creator is the only way to quench our thirst for more. Jesus transcends the superficial fountain of frenzy and farce that our world offers us. Without him, our best bet is to keep chasing the green light of idealism.