One of the most tragic love stories of all time, Baz Luhrmann has adapted another rendition of The Great Gatsby for the big screen. Although a bit over-done at times, The Great Gatsby is a refreshing and modern interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel.
Set in the height of the roaring 1920s in the greater New York City area, The Great Gatsby is narrated by Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) – a Yale graduate, World War I veteran, and a writer-turned-bond salesman. After moving to West Egg – an area on Long Island – Nick reconnects with his second cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), who is married to his [sleazy and arrogant] former Yale classmate, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Slowly, Nick begins to hear bits and pieces about a mysterious man named Mr. Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) – a man that apparently no one has ever seen, yet he throws extravagant parties that basically all of New York attend. A multi-millionaire, Gatsby is said to have traveled the world, attended Oxford, and won many awards for his service in the War. Subsequently, Nick soon learns that Gatsby is his next-door neighbor and receives an invitation to one of his parties. Eventually, Nick meets and becomes acquainted with Gatsby, and soon learns that he is an ambitious man for his own reasons, but he also guards many secrets.
If Luhrmann’s intention was to adapt a story that is both fresh for the Gastby time period and today’s world, then he did exactly that. The Great Gatsby is the epitome of the 1920s – flappers, the height of the stock market, large parties, and prohibition are all highlighted in the plot. When the novel was published for the first time in 1925, obviously everything just listed was extremely prevalent in America. However, Luhrmann turned this 1920s story and twisted it with 21st-century culture, most noteably the soundtrack. Executive Producer Jay-Z performs many of the songs on the soundtrack, which also includes Beyonce, Florence + The Machine, and more contemporary artists.
Although originally skeptical of these selected artists featured in The Great Gatsby, a setting that is entirely quintessential of the Roaring Twenties, I was shocked at how much I enjoyed the mixing of music and eras. While there are some distinctive pieces heard that embody the early 1900s – such as Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue – the blending of the two eras brings the film into another level of symbology. Examined outside of the era it’s set in, The Great Gatsby plot, at it’s simplest, can be applicable to anyone in any location or time period: Man meets girl, the couple separates for reasons outside of their control, girl meets another man, man attempts to win girl back by lying and financially building himself. By combining styles and music of the 21st century, this only solidifies the message that the plot’s omen can be taken out of historical context and applied to anyone.
Yes, stylistically, the film produces an extremely high level of detail, and is, at times, a bit overdone, but it’s exactly what I would have expected a Luhrmann rendition of The Great Gatsby to be. The vivid colors, unique cinematography, and over-doneness that is the film is perfectly Baz Luhrmann and Roaring Twenties. At times, the style overcompensated for the plot adaptation, character development, and acting, but the film by no means did Fitzgerald a disgrace. The acting was satisfactory, and is one of DiCaprio’s better roles, but Edgerton, although not extremely well-known, takes the cake in this one. While Nick is the narrator of the story, the story is not about him. There are many scenes in which he is merely a fly on the wall, and everything unravels around him. While the focus was mainly – and understandably – around developing Gatsby and Daisy, the development of Nick could have been better adapted, for the audience to understand who Nick is.
In 1920, Fitzgerald stated that “an author ought to write for the youth of his generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward.” While the masterpiece of his novel has unquestionably achieved exactly that, I predict the youth of today will enjoy Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby as well. As for the rest – only time will tell.
Rated: PG-13 (for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language)
The Great Gatsby opens in theaters on May 10.
Be sure to check out our Gatsby guide before seeing the film!
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