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February 26, 2024

The Great Gatsby: Movie Review

By Bernie and Sand Pilarski

Bernie said:

I will readily admit to you that it has been forty-five years since I read The Great Gatsby, and I will readily admit that I was so unimpressed by it back then that it has never made its way back onto my "books I want to read before I die" list. In fact, I don't have a list of books that I want to read before I die because, until recently, I never gave much thought to how long it might be until I died, and whatever length of time that was, it seemed like there would be enough time to get around to making a list if I needed to. Now, however, the end is close enough for me to begin to take notice. Most of my life is behind me, or at least I hope it is, because I don't want to live to be 120 years old, and while I have no reason to think that I am going to die soon, even the most optimistic estimates would put the time I have left at twenty years, plus or minus a couple. That's not all that long, and maybe it is time to start jotting down some of the titles I really should get around to before I die.

I'm glad in a way that I've put off the task until now; I'm sure that the list I make up at this time of my life will be different from a list that I would have made up twenty years ago, and certainly far different from a list I would have made up forty-five years ago, if for no other reason than The Great Gatsby will now appear on the list when I do finally get around to it. F. Scott Fitzgerald's story The Great Gatsby is a passionate tale of greed, lost love, excess, lust and deceit. Forty-five years ago, all of that was ahead of me, and from this point in my life I realize that I did not have, perhaps could not have had, an appreciation for these themes.

There is another aspect of Gatsby that I failed to appreciate back then, and that was Fitzgerald's writing. Look here and sample the use of language and imagery that decorates the story. Fitzgerald is a far better writer, a far more clever writer than I remembered, and again, I will attribute my new appreciation to the changes in me over the past forty-five years.

So it's a good book, but what about the movie? Director Baz Luhrman was the kid in the class that really liked the book. It shows in what he brings to the screen. This movie is not simply a screen adaptation of the book, it is an elaborate, loving and flashy book report. It is a showcase of Fitzgerald's art, even at times allowing the words of the book to flow across the screen as if they were emerging from a typewriter, a gentle reminder that the source material was the written word, Fitzgerald's written word.

While Luhrman allows Fitzgerald's art to be showcased, there is more than a little of his own artistry on display. This is a story that was written almost a century ago -- eighty-eight years if you want to be precise, and it was contemporary art. It may have been a temptation to treat this as a period piece and to portray the riotous nightlife of Gatsby's mansion as a kind of Buzby Berkeley dance number, but instead, Luhrman brilliantly draws the audience into the sensuality and abandon of the 1920's by using a soundtrack that merges modern hip-hop and traditional jazz. The music jars you and excites the senses, then takes you back to the past and suggests that the music of the day moved the characters in the film in a similar way -- the music creates a standard by which to measure their experience. Luhrman accomplishes the same thing visually with high energy choreography of the party scenes at Gatsby's that have a decidedly modern edge to them but look antique. It was all as if Mr. Luhrman was less interested in showing you what it was like in Gatsby's 1920's than he was in putting you in a position to feel what it was like in Gatsby's 1920s, and to that end, he succeeded admirably. We are left with the sense of chasing the past, and with Gatsby, having it seem so close that we can hardly fail to grasp it.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Toby Maguire were excellent choices for the lead roles and turned in solid performances. DiCaprio as Gatsby was appropriately obsessed and duplicitous, and Maguire's Nick Carraway a convincing wide-eyed moth being drawn to Gatsby's fame.

As usual, Sand and I did not go to the 3D version of this movie, and while I saw a few things designed to play to 3D, I can't imagine 3D adding a thing to this movie. Save your bucks and go to the regular version, but you really should go to see this one. It is not only a great movie experience, but it will let your high school English teacher rest in peace knowing that you can finally appreciate Fitzgerald.

Sand said:

Last year, when I heard those three words -- The Great Gatsby -- I immediately reverted to the brain inhabited by my sixteen-year-old mind and my first serious success at writing fiction, when I managed to pull an "A" grade out of an eleventh-grade English class book report of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises ... a book I attempted to read and could not get more than a few pages into before I lost complete interest. The Great Gatsby was also on the same reading list, as were various Dickenses, and because the Hemingway had been so unappealing, everything else on the list automatically was labeled "SOME OTHER PERSON'S IDEA OF HOW TO WASTE A TEEN'S MIND."

I still have that opinion. The Great Gatsby is not a story for teenagers, especially teenagers growing up in a Stickville location like me and my cohort, which may or may not have at one time housed bootlegging operations during Prohibition times. We had no idea about, nor interest in the Roaring Twenties; we were either from struggling farm families or desperate to get college degrees which might elevate us so as to not be struggling small-town folk. Or were willing to be small-town folk but had to scrabble for jobs and land to do that. Crazy parties on Long Island and the flamboyant extravagances of rich people -- that had no reality for us rural kids back in the 60s at all.


Bernie told me he wanted to see this movie, and since it had no Tom Cruise in it, nor vomiting aliens, I was agreeable. Indeed, I was curious to see what kind of story could be told in a movie nearly ninety years after it was written.

Critics are divided on this film; some say it was an atrocious mere semblance of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, and others say that it was a visionary adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel.

In this story, a man is revealed: a mysterious man with a past that seems surreal, a man with immeasurable wealth. No one knows the man, but many are drawn to Jay Gatsby's mansion by the dazzling parties he hosts. But the one he wants to see walk through his doors doesn't arrive, doesn't even know he's there -- the young woman he loved and lost years before.

The Great Gatsby is about devotion and love, obsession and betrayal, dreams that shape a lifetime and dreams that destroy. Layer by layer Gatsby's life is peeled back -- until the little that is left must come to accept a future unlike anything he imagined.

The soundtrack to this movie is outstanding. The use of color and lighting was excellent. But perhaps the most telling aspect of the film is that immediately after seeing the movie, I downloaded the book to my computer to read, and could not stay away from it.

Hats off to Baz Luhrmann and F. Scott Fitzgerald both. What a team!

Article © Bernie and Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2013-05-13
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