by Zijian Li
The Great Gatsby is one of the most precious of American literature. It has been adapted to film multiple times (four time for the big screen and once for television), the latest version having been directed by Baz Luhrmann, an Australian known for Moulin Rouge and Australia. This most recent film stars frequent Luhrman collaborator, Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby. In fact, the reactions of audiences toward the previous filmed versions of the story have been generally negative while the response to the original novel has been very successful. Regardless, the attempt by Luhrmann was still much anticipated particularly because of the cast, the promise of 3D, the utilization of CGI, and of course the opportunity to once again see a silver screen representation of the great novel itself. Without having watched the other cinematic versions, or even having read the book, this film definitely impressed me.
First, this particular film did an amazing job (with its Academy Award winning Wardrobe and Production Design) of exhibiting how people in the time period of the flamboyant 1920s embraced and pursued the American dream, but with a unique and different angle than previously utilized. The development of Green Screen and Computer Image Generated techniques assisted in this achievement, demonstrating the excess of the “Lost Generation” on an exaggerated level that was until recently simply unattainable. At his time in the 1920s, America, as the World War I victor is celebrating its rapid growth in economy and the American dream was a key idea for society and youth. The film successfully sets the main character, Jay Gatsby as an epitome of all the pursuers who have reached success as seen through the eyes of another important character, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) who represents of those who have just started the journey. In fact, it is Gatsby’s friend Carraway who tells Gatsby’s story in a first person perspective. This method works surprisingly well, allowing the audience to be spectators who look at Gatsby’s life objectively.
DiCaprio as Gatsby is certainly brilliant. All the feelings of the character were vividly delivered to audiences by his finely tuned facial expressions and minute gestures. The character of Gatsby is one of a man who has always been struggling, striving hard to pursue his dreams while covering his real identity. Because of this fact, there is a very complex feeling to this character that might have been lost on a lesser actor. The sense that he is an outstanding individual who has been very successful in his career making millions of dollars cannot be left to wardrobe alone, and DiCaprio has the gravitas to exude this persona effortlessly. However, deep inside of his heart, the character feels lonely, insecure, and even ashamed of his secret past. Again, DiCaprio has the skill to impart such a nuanced performance. Which is particularly essential here since the mood of the film flows with Gatsby’s mood: when he is excited and happy, the atmosphere of the film becomes likewise. In contrast, when Gatsby is upset the film has a depressed feeling as well. DiCaprio handles this character extraordinarily well, making his performance, in my opinion, the most attractive aspect of the entire film.
Interestingly, the way Baz Luhrmann directed this film has draw much criticism, particularly regarding the many dancing and singing scenes which almost make it a Moulin Rouge type of movie. Suffice it to say, the film has a bit too much of the furious celebration. However, this over-the-top element contributes to setting a strong contrast to the love Gatsby has for his beloved Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and how people can be are heartless toward that expression of devotion. Another aspect of the film that has also created some controversy is the presence of musical artist Jay-Z as the executive-producer of the film’s soundtrack. It is quite risky to adopt hip-hop music as the background music of a film that is set in the 1920s, especially when the story is an American classic. But the risky choice pays off nicely, as I think the music fits perfectly into the film.
Certainly, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby made some bold moves in adding a lot of new factors to a piece of classic literature, generating many doubts and controversies. But by doing so it also differentiated itself from any other previous adaptation. Overall, I think if we could forget about the original novel and watch the film as a complete new story, this would make it a much better film for anyone who watches it, and very likely draw the accolades it justly deserves.