Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review: The Great Gatsby (2013)

(This is the eighth of my reviews for the Period Drama Challenge.)

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of those classics everyone is supposed to read. Unfortunately, I'm something of a rebel: I tend to avoid reading what I'm "supposed" to read. I'm still a shocking example of a homeschooled bookworm, having never finished Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Don't get me wrong, I have read some of those dreaded books that everyone must read to be properly educated, but they usually don't make it to the top of my "Want-to-Read" list. I confess, I didn't read The Great Gatsby until I heard about the movie. (Oh, and seeing Fitzgerald portrayed by Tom Hiddleston in Midnight in Paris might have helped my interest in the author.)

As a staunch the-book-is-better-than-the-movie defender (well, almost always), I have to give a brief opinion on the book - I liked it. It was extremely well-written, very unique and intriguing. Beyond that, I don't really understand why I enjoyed it as much as I did - it's certainly not my usual sort of book. I found my mind engaged, the hint of mystery and quirky weirdness was certainly interesting. But the story is not one that touches the heart. At least, it didn't touch mine.

 It didn't even occur to me that the story should possibly have inspired some emotion in me until I saw the movie... and then I was still completely detached emotionally, but I felt guilty for being so. Afterward, my dad pointed out that in the book, the narrator is simply a spectator, telling the facts of the story without trying to tell the reader how to feel about it. In the movie, I think they tried to tell you what you should feel, but never actually decided what that feeling should be, so the message was confusing.

I do not think you should watch this movie unless you have read the book. And even though the story is not the kind I prefer (lighthearted and innocent this book certainly is not) I do recommend this book for anyone who is interested. Be warned, it portrays the loose morals of the 1920's (in a non-graphic way) and is really not an uplifting story. (Beware of spoilers from here on.)

Gatsby's one desire is Daisy. The poor boy fell in love with the rich girl, and 5 years later he's trying to win her away from her rich husband with a huge, sparkling mansion and wild parties. Her husband is having an affair with another married woman, so she has an affair with Gatsby. Everyone here is totally selfish and absorbed in their own schemes. Desperately seeking their own happiness, thoughtless for anyone else, they grasp for whatever they want, only to see it ultimately slip through their fingers.

I've only read the book once, so I don't think I've began to really understand all the nuances and subtleties. It's not just about wealth, adulterous love affairs and desperately searching for happiness, because if it were, I wouldn't be able to like it. I think it's really an experience: you are invited to step into the comfortable position of a casual observer, and watch with Nick. The book was great visually, it seems like you're really there, but it also feels surreal.

The movie, simply by being a movie, can't capture the experience of a book. I enjoyed the movie, but in general I think they tried to make it too much of a show. There's something quite enchanting about the style of the book that just makes me want to read it again.

(As I was struggling with what to write about the movie, and interrupting Sarah's diligent writing with frequent complaints of my predicament, she suggested that I write down my random thoughts about the movie, rather than trying to organize myself. It worked. I will now bombard you with random comments, and maybe it will turn into something intelligible. For a truly well-thought, intelligent review, check out my sister's review here.)

I don't understand why they decided to begin the movie with Nick telling the story as a retrospective from a sanitarium. It bothered me immediately, and increased my annoyance every time they returned to it.

Tobey Maguire did a much better job playing Nick Carraway than I expected. His voice still sometimes squawks awkwardly, but he actually fit the character pretty well. 

Leonardo DiCaprio, unfortunately, did not fit my imagination of Jay Gatsby, even though I knew he was going to be playing Gatsby when I read the book. His accent was kind of weird. His "old sport" kind of annoyed me in the book, and it was just cheesy in the movie.

Carey Mulligan was pretty fabulous as Daisy Buchanan, like I thought she would be. Her voice was perfect sometimes, others not quite so much. In reading the book, my imagination came up with some impossibly surreal ideas for her voice, which is probably what Fitzgerald intended.

Even though Gatsby shouldn't still be thinking about Daisy since she's married to another man, it's kind of touching how attached he is to her. Until, that is, he nearly goes insane trying to erase her past with her husband by insisting that she tell her husband that she never loved him. 

Tom Buchanan was portrayed by Joel Edgerton. I was sad to see him play a bad guy role, but he's one of those actors who are talented enough that I only think about the character in the role. Tom's affair with Myrtle makes him seem "unworthy" of Daisy.

Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher) is the wife of a poor garage owner. Tom keeps an apartment just for their affair, and apparently for raucous parties. There is a very uncomfortable scene in that apartment, with drugs and alcohol and 20's style underclothing.

Jordan Baker, played by Elizabeth Debicki, was cut out to nearly nothing, she had a much bigger part in the book, including a relationship with Nick. I wish they hadn't cut it out, I think the actress could have done a great job. She's a rich friend of Daisy and attendee of Gatsby's parties.

I really liked the billowing sheer curtains scene! It was almost exactly like I imagined! Unfortunately, I couldn't find any good pictures of it. The picture above doesn't even begin to do it justice.

They spent too much time showing us the "epic driving." I'd had enough of the famous yellow car zooming around by halfway through the first sequence. All that time could have been spent more productively in my opinion.

I never imagined the green light on the dock to have been a rotating, flashing light. It's the little things like that that irk me. Instead of getting a sense of Gatsby's wistful longing, I was distracted by thinking "why is the light flashing?"

The glitz and glamour of the 20's is presented here as a garish glitter and jewel-encrusted shell, which cracks open to reveal the lonely, dark emptiness of each character's existence. It offers no redemption, no happily-ever-afters for anyone, and no apology for it's cool carelessness.

Somehow, the movie felt more callous than the book. Perhaps because in usual Hollywood style, the movie seemed to over glamorize the immoral behavior. That is, after all, what our society considers acceptable. "You're meant to be happy, whatever that takes, with whomever you want!" Delivered from Hollywood, the message I get from this story is humorously condemning. 

"For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." (Luke 9:24) is brought to mind for me. I don't know if that's what the book meant to say or not, but that's definitely what I took away from it. I think I could read the book one hundred times and not catch all the details. It's a wonderfully written book, and the movie really just made me want to go read the book. 

If you made it through that long, rambly, messy review, congratulations! Your patience is extraordinary. I'm sorry I didn't do Fitzgerald's story better justice. In a nutshell, I recommend the book, with a slight reservation and the movie with more reservations, only if you read and liked the book.

The movie gets more reservations because they unfortunately chose to show some of the inappropriate relations that were only implied in the book. The apartment scene could be skipped in its entirety, in my opinion, and then there are some brief scenes that are hard to skip later in the movie. That's all I remember, but I try to forget those parts. 

My favorite part of the movie was the billowing sheer curtains scene. I will imagine that when I read the book again. Which I intend to do very soon.

1 comment:

  1. I am also a bit obstinate when it comes to reading certain books -- if
    "everybody" is reading it, I don't want to. I love classics, but if it's popular, I avoid it. Which is really dumb, because some things are popular because they're good, like the Harry Potter books, which I didn't get into until after the first five books were published.

    Anyway, I've been trying and trying to see this movie since it came out, and it hasn't worked out yet. I re-read the book a month or so ago and really enjoyed it, which fascinated me since the first time I read it (about 10 years ago), I thought it was boring.

    Oh, and Tom Hiddleston's portrayal of Fitzgerald definitely got me re-interested in his work, hee.