By Megan Cunnane
One day in my high school history classroom, my teacher, Mrs. Holmes, sat on the edge of her desk, leaned backward, held out her palm and began to clench and unclench it with a slow yet controlled pace, as if she were handling an invisible heart. “Do you remember this scene from The Great Gastby?” she asked us. “Gatsby leans against his car, the sleek body of his wealth, his pride, and does this with his hand”—she looked down. We nodded, and she continued to explain how this was one of the best moments in literature because it so essentially and quietly captured the American psyche of the 1920s—a sense of anxiety, of excess, pressing always into a restless emptiness.
This is the scene that came to my mind when I heard that Baz Luhrmann was going to bring The Great Gatsby to film. I had high expectations: Luhrmann’s set design, costumes, lighting, and overall visual effects tend to have the air of obvious symbolism, which could be perfect for Fitzgerald’s novel, a book that in fact uses excessive symbolism as a literary device (think Gatsby’s flying shirts, green light, clenched fist, and Doctor T.J. Eckleberg’s watchful eyes over the Valley of Ashes). Also, the soundtrack was somewhat born out of “No Church in the Wild,” Jay Z and Kanye West’s single from “Watch the Throne” (listen to it now). Luhrmann and Leonardo DiCaprio were in the recording studio to hear Jay Z and Kanye West produce it and were then inspired to employ Jay Z as the executive producer of the soundtrack. Their goal was to bring the Jazz Age to a modern audience by infusing Hip-Hop and Pop into the film. It seemed that Luhrmann and his crew were heading in a very good direction.
But I was let down. The look of the film is most of the time affected, which distracts from the story and characters. The soundtrack, although great on its own, is not weaved seamlessly into scenes, falling entirely flat when it could have been brilliant. Actors were tolerable with a few exceptions. Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan is a pleasure to watch and Leonardo DiCaprio (Jay Gatsby) was flawlessly cast, although his accent was a little strange. The real highlight of the film is Joel Edgerton, who was wonderfully cast as Tom Buchanan—the man whose power threatens to burst from his closely tailored suits. Edgerton acts with delicacy, easily succeeding in the most anticipated moments of the novel and giving Tom Buchanan’s brute character depth.
Although a general disappointment, The Great Gatsby is a fun movie to watch, and definitely doesn’t disgrace the original novel or Fitzgerald, so if you’re clasping the book to your heart in fear—don’t. Fitzgerald created such a strong plot and set of characters that they shine through anything.