“I want a little something more
Don’t want the middle or the one before
I don’t desire a complicated past
I want a love that will last”………………..
‘The Great Gatsby’ is a tale of a love that lasted. Jay Gatsby is a man whose love was blind to faults, did not care about self preservation, just wanted to cherish and protect the woman he loved and hoped to live a dream. Based on a 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this film bears the signature of Baz Luhrmann who gave us fascinating films like Romeo and Juliet in 1996 and Moulin Rouge in 2001. Luhrmann’s trademark use of kaleidoscopic colours and contemporary music in period settings makes the film a sensory extravaganza.
The films starts with Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) being treated by a doctor in a sanatorium. A Yale graduate and war veteran, Nick is a depressed alcoholic who finds no meaning in his life. He mentions a man called Gatsby, to the doctor and for the first time we see a spark of life in Nick’s dull eyes. The doctor asks him to write down his thoughts since Nick finds it difficult to articulate them in speech. Thus begins Nick’s tale of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), the most hopeful man he had ever met.
Nick always wanted to be a writer but fate had other plans and he moves to New York in the summer of 1922; to a job as a bond salesman in the booming stock market. Nick stays in a little cottage in West Egg, where the nouveau rich live, right next to the opulent mansion of a man named Jay Gatsby. One night, Nick catches a glimpse of someone he thinks is Gatsby, standing at the end of the pier, reaching out as if to catch something across the bay.
Nick also meets his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), and her husband Tom (Joel Edgerton) who was one of the richest men in America. Nick is introduced to Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki) a languidly elegant golfer who Daisy hopes will entrance Nick. Being old money, Tom’s mansion is in East Egg, visible across the bay from Nick’s home and Gatsby’s mansion.
Nick learns that Tom has a mistress in the Valley of Ashes, the depressive industrial dumping ground between West Egg and the city. And eventually he meets Myrtle (Isla Fisher), Tom’s mistress and the wife of garage owner George Wilson (Jason Clarke). A drunken afternoon spent with Myrtle’s sister and friends leaves Nick in a moral dilemma as he begins to understand the reason for pain Daisy’s eyes. His beautiful cousin Daisy the ‘Golden Girl’ who had always been the cynosure of all attention had been reduced to a trophy wife.
Gatsby’s mansion is lit up like Christmas every night and the weekends witness everyone from New York driving down to enjoy the most extravagant parties. One day Nick receives an invitation to a party, the only one ever to receive an invitation, as he later finds out. The others would just land up there since there was always a party on at the Gatsby mansion. The party is a surreal experience as he realizes that most people did not know who the host was and what he did for a living. Whispers of his immense wealth and misdeeds float through the rooms as people drink champagne and enjoy the entertainment. Nick feels lost at the party till he bumps into Jordan and later into the mysterious Gatsby.
Nick is strangely drawn to Gatsby and eventually gets to know him better than anyone else. The actual person behind the façade of an ‘Oxford Man’ and mysterious billionaire was very different from what the world could see. Through Jordan, Nick also gets involved in reuniting Gatsby with his long lost love – Daisy who he had to leave 5 years ago to go to war. The moral dilemma returns for a brief moment to Nick’s mind, was it correct for him to encourage this illicit relationship? But Gatsby’s love is an ‘incorruptible dream’ and Nick finds himself an accomplice in this romance.
The story brings out a subtle but clear comparison of ‘old money’ with the ‘nouveau riche’ and ‘working class’ and leaves you more than a tad depressed about callousness of people. Nick’s growing disenchantment with the swish set reaches a crescendo as he watches his friend’s last passage “unwept, unhonored and unsung”.
Not having read the book, I spent some time wondering why Leonardo DiCaprio was so staged in his performance only to realize that Gatsby’s entire persona was studied. Jay Gatsby was a creation of the boy who had dreamed of great things and painstakingly learned how to be a gentleman. The watchfulness in Gatsby’s gaze was in direct contrast to the studied nonchalance in his mannerisms and the much espoused ‘old sport’. We see the façade slip for a moment towards the end when he lashes out at Tom, only to control himself and apologize, but the damage had been done. Carey Mulligan is almost ethereal and Joel Edgerton a perfect contrast in brusqueness.
Watch the film if you have ever been in love. Watch the film if you have ever dreamed of the perfect love, someone who is willing to love you despite all obstacles and is ready to build his life around you. Watch the film if you want to know if the love survives. Watch the film if you want to experience a riot of colours, music, billowing curtains and swirling bodies (On a completely irrelevant note – our own Sanjay Leela Bhansali will find a lot to love and emulate in the film!) . Watch the film if you want to get sucked into Gatsby’s world of glamour and glitz only to realize it was a ploy to get to his ultimate but elusive dream. Watch the film if you want to witness more than competent performances by the cast.
As I said before, this is a tale of a love that lasted. How wonderful would be if it were not one sided…………
Copyright© Taraa Vermaa Senguptaa May 2013
All Rights Reserved