7.23.2013

The Great Gatsby

Rich White People: The Movie
"Can't repeat the past? ...of course you can!"

Hello everyone, welcome back to The Tagline! Today I'm finally going to talk about the recent film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's seminal American novel The Great Gatsby, a book which no doubt many of you last confronted in high school English class. If you are a little hazy on the details, I will give you a quick refresher course, sage as I am. The Great Gatsby is a story told from the the POV of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire, of Spiderman fame/infamy), a young man returned from WWI and a graduate of Yale who takes a job in New York as a bonds salesman. It is 1922, so things are really well... you know roarin'. Nick lives next to Jay Gatsby's (Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Mr. Gatsby.) ridiculously huge pleasure palace. Nick visits his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan also here in Drive, who is tremendously rich and married to Tom (Joel Edgerton who did you know was a young Owen Lars in the Star Wars prequels), who is the reason she is so rich. After this encounter he is invited to one of Gatsby's wild parties, where after a surreal experience he meets the man himself. Gatsby for his part is totally obsessed with Daisy, whom he had a relationship with in 1917, and his whole wild party-throwing act is all part of his elaborate efforts to impress her, and to prove he's good enough to be with her. This of course sort of overlooking her marriage (granted her husband is cheating on her with the wife of a poor mechanic but still). Nick rather than being directly involved in all of this, has the misfortune of just sort of... being caught up with it. He get's to know someone he considers to be an extraordinary man, and then watches as he is laid low by fate, or his own hubris, or something.
 

This is Gatsby's obsession Daisy. She is a breathless idiot.
That's not really what I want to talk about. If you want to learn more about the plot than the brief slap-dash I just applied, read the book, or watch the movie, which does more or less convey the entire plot, intact. I wanted to type essentially intact, but that isn't true, and I'll get into why further into this post. First off, I had put off watching this movie because I had heard really conflicting things about it. People who seemed deeply enamored with the source material alternately thought it was spectacular or awful, and people who didn't care about or care for the book thought it was terrifically boring. All of that made me pretty wary of the film, and fearing a two hour boredom block I put it off until I finally couldn't any longer. Having now seen the movie, I can understand more clearly why certain people really liked it, while others who loved the same book couldn't stand it. I can also say with some confidence that people with no real interest in this book will likewise encounter nothing in the movie likely to engage them. 


This is Jordan, she plays tennis or something? It doesn't
matter.
As you have no doubt come to realize in your own life, two people liking the same piece of fiction in no way means they have the same opinions, ideas or understanding of that work. They might not even like it for the same reasons; in fact I'd go so far as to say they probably don't. A pretty decent demonstration of this can be found in reaction to this film. You see, there are two very contrary ways you might enjoy the novel (I'm sure there are many more, but I'm talking about two here, so just go with it). You could feel, and this was my interpretation of the novel's intent, that the plot demonstrates the hollow decadence of the roaring 20s and the sordid happenings therein. The novel shows people who are almost entirely self-involved (with the only exception being Nick) and who generally come to bad ends, after a life devoid of meaning or anything resembling genuine human connection. You could also enjoy The Great Gatsby because you found that same decadence to be appealing on a personal or even aesthetic level.

This is the weirdest sequel to Inception.
How does that determine your enjoyment of the movie? As I said before, the movie's plot faithfully follows that of the book, but while I felt the book had some very stern things to say about the excesses of the 20s and what they led to, the movie seemed to be a little too into the whole scene. Sure it still said the same things, but there was less time spent on that and a lot of time spent on spectacle. To a point that makes sense in a movie, but it got to a level where it seemed like the spectacle was really the movie's prime concern, rather than the themes underpinning the plot of the novel.


What am I going to do with all of this ridiculous shit.
For my part I found the movie to be similarly hollow and decadent. It was pretty to look at, and it went through the motions, but ultimately it was not saying anything I found compelling. I'll confess that I'm not the world's hugest fan of the novel to begin with, and that didn't help me to love the movie. Much as in my review of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I have a difficult time mustering up sympathy for the plight of any character other than Nick, because ultimately I have a hard time feeling bad for characters who take part in the great pageant of Rich People Dicking Each Other Over. I feel bad for Nick, because he's the only person in the movie who isn't a monumental narcissist. I do not however share his sympathy for Gatsby, who is arguably the grandest narcissist of them all, aggrandizing himself so he can obtain his perfect, idealized love object, Daisy. The problem with Nick being the only real sympathetic character is that the story we are watching isn't about Nick, he's just sort of watching it unfold. That can work as a framing device in a book, where the bigger idea and the thematic implications can be more important than the plot, but in a movie I feel like it is just harder to carry that off. The medium is geared more towards the story itself, and when you focus on all the flash, you lose the really relevant part of the novel. That is about as clearly as I can render my verdict. Determine what you like about the novel, and then my discussion above will give you an unerring sense of whether or not this movie will be for you. 

That's all for today! Join me on Thursday when I strike a totally different tone, and talk about a movie involving Norwegian Trolls.

Stay classy internet.

2 comments:

  1. A stern case of RPDEOO: Rich People Dicking Each Other Over.

    I think you're onto something!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah it's practically an epidemic! XD

      Delete

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