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The Great Gatsby (2013)

The Great Gatsby is rich with spectacle and makes for an incredibly beautiful and emotional film. It’s extravagant characters drive the film with their unattainable and lavish desires: be it an epic love, longing for an idealized lifestyle, or simply to be filthy rich. For Gatsby, it’s all of the above and more.

Based on  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel of the same name, the film follows narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Macguire) as he spends a summer in New York. Then there is his pampered and air headed cousin Daisy (Carrey Mulligan); her jackass of a husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton);  and Daisy’s old-flame, the mysterious and ridiculously rich Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Gatsby is deeply vulnerable and ruthlessly ambitious. He has created a false reality for himself, making himself appear to the public to be someone he isn’t, resulting in various rumours and stories being made up about him. Moreover, he has projected all he ever does and creates, his life’s goals and ambitions towards his lost love Daisy.

Gatsby has built an empire of excess in her honor: a mansion that boasts legendary parties as seeped in alcohol as they are in affectation in the hopes of luring her into his web. It is in the attainment of her that he believes he can find peace. But there is no peace to be had, because Daisy, like the false version of himself that he presents to the world, is nothing more than a self-created illusion. Carraway calls Gatsby “the most hopeful man he has ever met,” but really Gatsby is willfully blind and dangerously covetous. – Roth Cornet

The film itself is as gorgeous as the cast that populates it. The surrealistically beautiful aesthetic reflects the idea that the dream of the 1920’s never really existed and that the illusion of its “greatness” only served to mask the achingly empty nature of its glut.

At first I really thought the 3D aspect of it ruined the atmosphere and aesthetic of the movie, and that it was completely unnecessary, but as the film went on I realized it never overly detracted from the overall feel. In certain moments it not only supports the aesthetic, but solves the issue of creating a sense of both movement and immersion.

The use of the medium is one more way in which Lurhmann, in his approach, mimics Gatsby’s unrelenting self-indulgence. Our senses are overloaded and inundated with color, movement, sound, music, and text from the source material which has been stretched across the screen and stereoscopically brought forward.  It all moves so fast and yet leaves us feeling so bereft. – Roth Cornet

Like the film’s visual palate, the character’s emotions are heightened. They don’t love in a steady manner; they need with an anguished desperation, ever trying to fill an infinite void.

Yet their suffering never fully lands. We aren’t able to connect with these characters long enough, or deeply enough, to invest in them. Add to that, their hopes are too selfish and too delusional to root for. That sense of disconnect could be read as one of the film’s central criticisms, or it could be read as its primary strength. For, ultimately, Lurhmann perfectly captures the inherently hallow nature of these people and their soulless lives.

Gatsby has built an empire of excess in her honor: a mansion that boasts legendary parties as seeped in alcohol as they are in affectation in the hopes of luring her into his web. It is in the attainment of her that he believes he can find peace. But there is no peace to be had, because Daisy, like the false version of himself that he presents to the world, is nothing more than a self-created illusion. Carraway calls Gatsby “the most hopeful man he has ever met,” but really Gatsby is willfully blind and dangerously covetous.  – Roth Cornet

Fitzgerald’s novel has been notoriously challenging to adapt. The nuance of the tale is difficult to capture on film. The sense of the pulsing life and energy of the era was entirely lost in the 1974’s inert and mopey version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. It’s likely too early to say if Lurhmann’s is the one that cracked the Gatsby code, but he is, in many ways, the perfect director to tackle this story.

As mentioned, his frantic aesthetic is ideally suited to capture the spinning-out-of-control tone. Additionally, the majority of his films center on a pair of star-crossed lovers. He seems interested in characters that are focused entirely on what are, ultimately, unattainable goals and a drive to propel themselves past the restrictions of birth. In many ways, it’s like Lurhmann has been practising his entire career for Gatsby.

The soundtrack. To this film. My god. Many have expressed to me how they think the music should have captured the time era of the film more, but I completely disagree and think the choice of music was brilliant. The anachronistic music and contemporary songs does much more than merely “include” modern audiences. It highlights the timeless lessons of this film. Jay Z was in many ways the perfect musical collaborator for Gatsby. Not only does the soundtrack work as a driving source of propulsion for the story, but the artist’s Big Pimpin’ is the contemporary metaphor for all that Gatsby stood for: chest pounding, posing, newly moneyed showboating and rampant, substance-less overindulgence.

The performances in this film were fantastic, the strongest being Mulligan’s and DiCaprio’s by far.

Ultimately, this film, like Gatsby himself, visually embodies American excess. And yet Gatsby, the character and the film, is stunning – a seductive thing of beauty.
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