In my younger and more vulnerable years my literature teacher gave me a piece of fiction I’ve been reading over and over again ever since. F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby is a fantastic, decadent imagining of a world in decay, a story of ever lasting hope, of pure, unadulterated love and of the great American dream; working your way up from the dirt to the stars. Adaptations of this literary masterpiece leave me with bated breath. Though the highly anticipated release of Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation has been met with stern objection, lovers of the novel will find this newly imagined The Great Gatsby plays more like a love letter to Fitzgerald, thanking him for creating a tragically beautiful tale that transcends the ages and is relevant in a social context, even today.
Nick Carroway’s (Tobey Maguire) telling of the story of his great neighbours exploits is contextualized by placing him in Fitzgerald’s own shoes, recounting his West Egg days to a Doctor he is seeing for his alcoholism and various associated ailments. True to form, the film begins with a melancholy Carroway idealizing New York when he first arrived, placing his low on the old money food chain, a Yale man with a charming and wealthy cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan) who has married one of the richest – and small minded – men in America, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Small mentions of his neighbour Gatsby pop up in conversation with people he meets; Daisy’s best friend Jordan Baker (newcomer and local Elizabeth Debicki) had attended one of his legendary parties, so too had Tom’s mistress Mytle (Isla Fisher )and her sister Catherine (Adelaide Clemens), but despite this, it isn’t until about a fifth of the way through the film, when Carroway himself is invited personally to one of Mister Gatsby’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) parties, that the man himself actually shows up. After this, their friendship begins, and the warmth felt between the two (real life friends since childhood) is so pure it sets the scene for the whole film.
Though type-cast somewhat as the dark, moody, repressed character in almost everything he’s been in, DiCaprio brings a real innocence and charm to the character of Jay Gatsby that Robert Redford just wasn’t able to achieve in the 1974 film adaptation. After all, at it’s heart, Gatsby is about a man that does everything he does for an ideal, dreamed up over five long years, working his way to the top of the pack in order to be close to the woman he loves.
The film is energetic, decadent beyond belief, theatrical and visually spectacular, without losing sight of the story, the humour and the tragedy. Luhrmann and producer/costume/production designer Catherine Martin certainly do the period justice, and illustrate the timelessness of the piece. It moves precisely at the pace of the novel and is a true to form, heart-wrenching adaptation of one of the most beautiful and tragic stories ever told.
The Great Gatsby is in Australian cinemas from 30 May through Roadshow Films.