The Great Gatsby
Post Created by j.kiley
Posted May 10th 2013
“When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more of the riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction–Gatsby who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life…This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of “creative temperament”–it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such that I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. No–Gatsby turned out all right in the end; it was what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elation’s of men” (Fitzgerald 6-7).
This passage, located in the first chapter, is a reflection of Nick’s feelings after the summer of 1922. The unique organization of the book placed this reflection before the actual events, so that it serves to foreshadow what will come. After his summer of parties, decadence and intrigue Nick is disgusted by the modern culture and society. After only one summer, he is prepared to return to the comfort of routine and familiarity that he associates with his home. The only person who has not diminished in his sight is Jay Gatsby, because, in spite of Gatsby’s lavish lifestyle, there was a vitality and enthusiasm about him that impressed Nick. This passage summarizes the final phase of Nick’s emotional and intellectual transformation. Nick experienced interest, involvement and finally disgust. This feeling of disgust and disillusionment with the roaring twenties is a strong sentiment throughout the book.
“They had forgotten me but Daisy glanced up and held out her hand; Gatsby didn’t know me now at all. I looked once more at them and they looked back at me, remotely, possessed by intense life. Then I went out of the room and down the marble steps into the rain, leaving them there together” (Fitzgerald 101-102).
This passage presents a scene in which Nick visits with Gatsby and Daisy, but is completely eclipsed by their love for each other. They see nothing beyond themselves and their own love. Nick leaves unnoticed and un-missed. This self-absorption is apparent in many of the characters throughout the book and contributes to the confusion and sorrow that ultimately occurs. Everyone is working for themselves, with little to no consideration for the feelings or needs of others. In this scene, Nick notes the vitality of the two lovers. It is Gatsby’s passion and enthusiasm for life that particularly impresses Nick, but it is this vitality that ultimately destroys his relationship with Daisy. Both these elements of passion and selfishness create an atmosphere that allows for the careless destruction of lives and people.Characters
The narrator of the story, Nick Carraway, is a self-described “tolerant” and “open-minded” man. From a wealthy and long-established midwestern family, Nick was educated at Yale and is an astute and perceptive individual. Quiet and a good listener, Nick frequently plays the role of confidante, and unwilling witness to the secrets and ambitions of his acquaintances. His own actions and ambitions are insignificant when contrasted with the observations of Gatsby and the Buchanan’s. The reader’s sense and understanding of Nick’s character comes largely from his reactions to the actions of his friends. He is not an impartial judge, and makes his sentiments known. Like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, Nick’s experiences alter his perspective on the world. He observes the actions of those around him, and is not unmoved by them. Like Scout, he finds much to repulse him and disappoint him in his fellow humans. Where Scout was repulsed by racism, Nick is sickened by the vices and excesses of the Roaring Twenties. Nick, unlike Scout, is an educated adult, but this does little to prepare him for the atmosphere of wild abandon he finds in New York society.
Daisy Buchanan is a distant cousin of Nick’s, who enchants and attracts people with her sensual personality as well as her beauty. On the exterior, Daisy seems to have achieved complete success with her marriage to the wealthy Tom Buchanan, and her popularity within the higher social circles. In reality, Daisy is stuck in a faltering marriage with an adulterous husband, and little true enjoyment. With the arrival of Gatsby, her former love, Daisy experiences a short period of passionate happiness and feeling. This only serves to heighten her internal confusion, as she struggles to determine what type of life she wants to lead and with whom she wishes to spend that life. This struggle demonstrates Daisy’s weakness of character and her malleability. Daisy is supposedly based on Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda. Like Zelda Daisy is a winsome and attractive woman, but she has a love for the material things of life. She is fairly superficial, and her outward graces cover a love of money and position.
Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, is a domineering and determined fellow. Defined by strong and stubborn opinions and feelings that are often ill-founded, Tom’s character is a destructive one. He marches recklessly and heedlessly forward without consideration to the trouble he causes for others. Engaged in an affair, he is unfaithful in marriage and makes Daisy’s life terribly unhappy. He shares many characteristics with Stanley from A Streetcar Named Desire. Both men demonstrate primitive qualities and a propensity for anger and aggression. They are physical and bestial men. Unconcerned with the destruction they create, both hurt the women that they love and offend those with whom they interact.
Jay Gatsby is the mysterious and wealthy neighbor who becomes the subject of Nick’s attention all summer. A self-made man from a poor background, Gatsby is brimming with life and enthusiasm. His passion and energy amaze Nick as well as his other acquaintances. He is the constant subject of speculation and gossip because of his intense nature, odd habits, and lack of established history. As Nick discovers, the driving force behind Gatsby’s actions is his love for Daisy. In his mind Gatsby has transformed Daisy into an angel, and his love for her has fueled his drive to be successful. Gatsby is much like the Rhett Butler figure in Gone with the Wind, because like Rhett, he is mysterious and constantly confounding convention. He has worked hard to establish his fortune, and his reputation has grown to extreme proportions. His love of Daisy motivates him, in much the same way that Rhett’s love of Scarlet dictates his actions. By admitting this love, both of these characters are demonstrating a vulnerability uncharacteristic of them, or at least of their reputation. Gatsby, the tragic lover, remains a mystery throughout, even when confiding in Nick.
A grandiose, colorful, pleasure-drenched night at the movies.
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By Dana Stevens|Posted Thursday, May 9, 2013, at 6:34 PM
Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan in The Great Gatsby.
As Nick Carraway, the mild-mannered but eagle-eyed narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, observes in the book’s early pages, “Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.” So it was with a Zen mind that I tried to approach Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the book, which, intelligent debunkings aside, I really do regard as one of the great American novels of the 20th century—and probably inherently unfilmable. Literary adaptations of books in which the language is all—particularly the work of high-modern prose stylists like Fitzgerald, Proust, Nabokov, Woolf—seem doomed to either plodding literalism or airy insubstantiality. (Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita had a nasty sense of humor all its own, but the script, written by Nabokov himself, dispensed almost entirely with the narrative voice that makes the novel so perversely seductive.)
Then there was the fact that Baz Luhrmann, the Australian director of such grand-scale entertainments as Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge, and Australia, was the one who would be turning Fitzgerald’s economic tone poem of a novel into a big, glitzy 3-D spectacle. I’ve never been fond of Luhrmann’s films, and have only been able to tolerate a couple. (I think I walked out of Moulin Rouge, back when I wasn’t a film critic and could indulge in such luxuries.) His mania for heaping one visual excess atop another—look at this! No, look at this!— strikes me as a form of directorial ADD, an inability to let himself or the audience rest. And as a member of that winded audience, I sense an implicit condescension in Luhrmann’s tendency to flag and then re-flag a film’s major themes as his films go on—themes that were not introduced subtly the first time around. In Baz Luhrmann movies, ideas arrive with an ensemble.
But of course, The Great Gatsby is the story of a supremely unsubtle man given to bold gestures and flashy set pieces, so maybe Luhrmann was born to adapt it. At any rate, his Great Gatsby was nowhere near as terrible as I feared. It is, as I suspected, a gargantuan hunk of over-art-directed kitsch, but it makes for a grandiose, colorful, pleasure-drenched night at the movies. And far from betraying the spirit of Fitzgerald’s novel, Luhrmann (along with his co-screenwriter Craig Pearce) treats the book with a loving mix of straight-ahead reverence and postmodern playfulness. During the huge, highly choreographed party sequences that structure the story (this isn’t a musical, but the recurring music- and dance-heavy sequences make it feel like one), you’re more likely to hear Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Lana Del Rey than you are a tinny vintage recording of “Ain’t We Got Fun?”, the flapper-age standard that figures in a scene in the novel and that played at the end of the stillborn 1974 Robert Redford version. Luhrmann’s use of contemporary pop may spring mainly from a desire to sell soundtrack albums, but the notion of using hip-hop as a backdrop for Jazz Age euphoria makes sense: With his new wealth, loud pink suit, and impossibly sweet crib, Gatsby is a rap star before his time.
Dance-floor playlists aside, this Gatsby unfolds in a fairly conventional period setting (though this is the ’20s as seen through a distorting kaleidoscope, everything a little bigger and louder and lusher than life). In a klutzy frame story that’s absent from the novel, we meet Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) at a sanatorium where he’s recovering from “morbid alcoholism” and assorted mental maladies. He begins to tell his story to a benevolent, Santa Claus-like shrink, who provides him with a pen and paper with which to write it down. Later Nick will trade these tools in for a typewriter; whatever writing tool he uses, the words will occasionally drift up around him on the screen, then break apart and drift around him in a cloud of floating 3-D letters. It’s a hokey device, but the Nick-as-author conceit gives us an excuse to listen some choice passages of Fitzgerald’s prose, which Maguire, giving a surprisingly quiet performance at this chaotic movie’s heart, delivers beautifully. Thematically, though, it does seem a mistake to turn The Great Gatsby into a self-referential bildungsroman about a young man’s journey to healing through authorship. When Nick finally pens in “The Great” over his manuscript’s original title Gatsby, we don’t so much feel pride in his accomplishment as annoyance at his smugness—he’s supposed to be telling us this story out of necessity, not ambition.
The story Nick has to tell is one that anyone who’s graduated high school in the United States surely knows, at least in Cliffs Notes form: The mysterious tycoon Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) owns a gaudy estate next door to Nick’s rented cottage in the fictional Long Island village of West Egg. At one of his extravagant all-night flapper blowouts, Gatsby asks Nick to arrange a meeting with Nick’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), a dazzling former debutante whom Gatsby once loved and lost as a younger, poorer man. Daisy lives directly across the sound in old-money East Egg with her rich brute of a husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), and is constantly flanked by her best friend Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki), an icy-cool golf champion. Over the course of a summer, Nick is drawn into the orbit of these wealthy, powerful, lost people, whom he recognizes as a “rotten crowd” only after their unthinking cruelty has already caused irreparable harm.
Every image and set piece you remember from the novel—the crumbling oculist’s billboard that looms over the action with judging eyes; Gatsby flinging his collection of custom-made shirts at an overcome, weeping Daisy (and, thanks to the 3-D format, directly at us); the hot afternoon at the Plaza Hotel when the rivalry for Daisy’s affections comes to a head—is rendered in broad, operatic gestures. There were many moments when that broadness made me cringe: Does the CGI-aided camera always have to race at jet-ski speed across the water toward the symbolic green light on Daisy’s dock? Must Gatsby’s face really be seen for the first time against a backdrop of fireworks, as the climax of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” surges on the soundtrack? And yet for every slab of processed cheese, there’s another moment whose visual inventiveness pays off. In an early scene, Luhrmann turns one image in the novel—Nick looking out the window at a party, “simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life”—into a clever Rear Window-style tableau of a Manhattan apartment building bursting with untold stories.
Leonardo DiCaprio makes as good a Jay Gatsby as any living actor I can think of—he captures the character’s fixed-in-time boyishness as well as his innocent hucksterism, and he looks like a (dubiously ethical) million bucks in the splendiferous costumes by Catherine Martin, the director’s wife (who also designed the dizzyingly lavish, champagne-and-confetti-drenched production—she must have been one tired woman by the time shooting ended). But DiCaprio’s physical presence seems almost superfluous in some key scenes, as Maguire’s voice-over narrates the idealistic striver’s actions faster than he can complete them. Our first glimpse of Gatsby, before even the Gershwin-accompanied debut described above, is a shot of his be-ringed hand reaching toward that oft-revisited green light as Nick describes watching his enigmatic neighbor … reach for a green light off a dock. Luhrmann doesn’t just gild the lily, he spray-paints it with glow-in-the-dark sparkles.
Somehow the connection that’s established between Gatsby and Nick—the charismatic gangster and the shy young banker he dubs “old sport”—feels more vital and convincing than the illicit love between Daisy and Gatsby, which, despite Carey Mulligan’s sensitive performance, remains more of a narrative conceit. Perhaps the sweet-faced Mulligan is a little too sensitive for this part—there’s a hard, narcissistic edge to Daisy that we don’t glimpse until very late in the film (which also, disappointingly given Luhrmann’s literalness, misses the chance to work in Gatsby’s observation that “her voice is full of money”). Many of the actors in smaller roles—especially Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke as Tom Buchanan’s working-class mistress and her duped mechanic husband—seem to be straining to fill their limited screen time with the most theatrical, Punch-and-Judy style performances possible. If there’s a discovery in the cast, it’s the Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki, who plays Daisy’s enabling pal Jordan. In the novel, Nick describes the implacable Jordan as looking “like a good illustration, her chin raised a little jauntily, her hair the color of an autumn leaf.” Debicki’s cool, reserved performance captures the stillness of that description—when she’s onscreen there’s a moment of respite from the noise, a sigh of relief that there’s someone in this feverishly over-self-explaining movie we may never understand.
The Great Gatsby — Leonardo DeCaprio and Carey MulliganQUOTATIONS on CLASS:
“Class is an aura of confidence that is being sure without being cocky. Class has nothing to do with money. Class never runs scared. It is self-discipline and self-knowledge. It’s the sure-footedness that comes with having proved you can meet life.” ― Ann Landers
“It’s okay. We aren’t in the same class. Just don’t forget that some of us watch the sunset too.” ― S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders
“Thus did a handful of rapacious citizens come to control all that was worth controlling in America. Thus was the savage and stupid and entirely inappropriate and unnecessary and humorless American class system created. Honest, industrious, peaceful citizens were classed as bloodsuckers, if they asked to be paid a living wage. And they saw that praise was reserved henceforth for those who devised means of getting paid enormously for committing crimes against which no laws had been passed. Thus the American dream turned belly up, turned green, bobbed to the scummy surface of cupidity unlimited, filled with gas, went bang in the noonday sun.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
“The few own the many because they possess the means of livelihood of all … The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor. The majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands – the ownership and control of their livelihoods – are set at naught, we can have neither men’s rights nor women’s rights. The majority of mankind is ground down by industrial oppression in order that the small remnant may live in ease.” ― Helen Keller, Rebel Lives: Helen Keller