A film review by Chavisa Woods
Baz Luhrman really likes green talismans. This was my most profound thought after watching The Great Gatsby at the Regal Union Square Stadium 14 (which offered a 3D version of the film. I’m still not sure what purpose the added effect of 3D served for a film like Gatsby, with the exception of the closing credits, which were breathtaking with the effect); Baz Lurman has a bit of a fetish about glowing green fetishes.
The green light on Daisy’s dock, across from which Gatsby has spent his days regarding the light as his personal Polaris North, comes to life visually in Baz Luhrman’s film as a magical jewel, definitely an emerald amulet; a big leap for a dock light. But this harkens back to the portrayal of the dock light in the novel. When Gatsby finally has Daisy in his arms, he looks to the light on the dock, and it is noted, “Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.” In the film, we are constantly being taken in and out on a sweeping special effects roller coaster flying the miles down to, then back up away from this dock light turned jewel, magnifying, exaggerating, but ultimately curdling the richness of this metaphorical object through vast overkill. I might not have felt so sea sick about it, if it hadn’t harkened directly back to Mulin Rouge and the glowing green bottle of absinthe, complete with its own green glowing absinthe fairy buzzing around, smacking everyone on the head with her little green wand, and allotting them moments of artistic transcendence.
There were other things. Both Gatsby and Moulin Rouge (as Luhrman tells it) begin and end with a man hunched over a type-writer, melodramatically lamenting the death of a loved one. In Moulin Rouge it is, “The woman I loved is dead.” In Gatsby it’s the neighbor, (which is over pronounced by Nick’s therapist in the beginning scene. Throughout the film, every tenth word f dialogue is delivered in bold caps and underlined. You never get used to it.) At one point, I almost excepted Nick (the narrator) to lament, “The neighbor I loved… is… DEAD.”
Don’t get me wrong. I actually very much loved Moulin Rouge. I just don’t think the same formula is applicable to a story like The Great Gatsby. And it was so obviously a formulaic display that Luhrman presented. The parties at Gatbsy’s mansion read like cut scenes from Moulin Rouge, with wide-eyed women popping up and cooing, hopping backwards through doors and shaking tail feathers, (although, rather than red and black these were sliver and white) obscuring the eye of the screen, while heavy drum and base overwhelmed the senses. Swoop in on Gatsby’s ring as glitter, feathers and was it fake snow (?) fall in waves over Jay-Z singing Hundred Dollar Bill. The choice to imbue the 1920’s with contemporary pop and R&B, rather than reading as an innovative modern application, was simply jarring and at times laughable. The film was a pomp telling of a story that is, at it’s base, one of circumstance.
I’ve read The Great Gatsby cover to cover twice. The story is many things. It is the story of a rich couple simultaneously having affairs with two people from lower class who kill each other’s lovers. It is a story of how the upper class kills the lower class in personal interactions. It is a story of an imposter. It is a story of the tome of American redefinition of one’s self. But ultimately, it is a story of the everlasting power of first love.
The book is most revered for the technical aspects of the writing, which is what has ultimately propelled it through the generations. I do not except the writer’s gifts with language will be preserved when a text is adapted to film. But I do at least hope that the main aspects of what we loved about the story will remain.
Baz Lurhman did pay homage to the text itself, with great care I might add. At times the text appears on the screen, being typed out over the sky or falling around like confetti on torn bits of paper. In both the text falling on the screen and in the spoken narrative, he included a mixed bag of two different edits of Gatsby, which have battled one another over the years, consoling literary dorks on both sides with different versions of contested lines which I greatly appreciated: “And I was him also,” versus “And I saw him also,” Luhrman choosing the former. He also adhered to the future being “orgastic” rather than “orgiastic,” the latter being a typo of popular early prints. The great detail and attention paid to the textual aspects of the book, as well as to the gorgeous portrayal of the Ash Heaps as a liminal and possibly sub-conscious space between Long Island and New York City, runs in stark contrast to the rest of the film, which ultimately missed the point.
When you read The Great Gatsby, it grabs you by the heart and squeezes out the ever-present pang of the first moment you realized what love was, and that love was pain, and that you would always be paying for and pining for this first image, this first someone, and there is no arguing with it, and there is no idea why, and there will never be any consolation. You know, that whole thing. “He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God.” When you read read The Great Gatsby, you wonder things like, ‘is the time before knowing romantic love like being a God? Did my first heartbreak wed me to my mortality? Is that why it will always secretly define my pitiful being?’
When you watch Baz Luhrman’s Gatsby, you wonder things like, ‘how much did this cost?’ and “what’s with his emerald talisman fetish?’