by Joe Giambrone
There are a handful of directors who always prompt me to venture out and endure the American multiplex experience. These are James Cameron, Darren Aronofsky, Terry Gilliam, Michel Gondry, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and Baz Luhrmann.
Now I believe Gatsby is a good film, and you should see it, but it's not a truly great film. I also believe that I'm onto why that is, which will take some spoilers, after the jump.
So see the film. But if you want to hear me bicker and b*tch and tear the thing apart ...
Baz Luhrmann went to exceptional lengths to engineer Gatsby in his image. He committed to a 3-D experience, and it shows. The usual 3-D chicanery pops out and slides by, almost constantly. This I didn't mind, and it makes for another element to keep the eyes from getting too used to the view. That's not such a bad thing. I saw Life of Pi in 3-D as well, and sat mesmerized the entire two hours (better film by the way).
Luhrmann's exceptional efforts here apply to the story as well, and he acknowledges expanding on the original text. His team used notes and as much primary-source material as they could find to construct the narrative and make it more film-friendly. The Nick (Tobey Maguire) character -- narrating -- was expanded on. Not sure if this expansion was sufficient, as there is a disconnect between Nick's life during the summer of Gatsby, and his present-moment supposed urgent need for psychological therapy. Some steps may have been overlooked concerning that transition. The film is long, however, and expanding further is always problematic.
Which brings me to the real problem with The Great Gatsby:
Not only is she not listed as a "star" of The Great Gatsby over at IMDB, she doesn't appear on the list until the 41st spot! I counted.
She's the protagonist! It is her decision, to choose between Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) or Tom (Joel Edgerton). It is her choice that undoes Gatsby and is the entire story fulfilled, the underlying class conflict, the crushing of dreams, the cold reality to Gatsby's fantasy delusions -- which he actually made sort of real for a while. How could such a key part of the story wind up 41st on the list? Because, like the other metaphors and analogies floating around in this 3-D fantasy world, Daisy's character was overlooked and underdeveloped. Think about the story of Gatsby from Daisy's POV.
So, are we to think of Daisy as a prize, a reward, an object, a prop? Can't ask Fitzgerald, but I do believe that Luhrmann may have flubbed this one. The blame has to go somewhere, and since he saw fit to expand Tobey Maguire's character to unneeded degrees, we must ask why Daisy got such short attention here. Is it a gender thing? Subconscious favoring of the male roles? Lost in the testosterone?
Let me explain the plot, for those who may be lost at this point; I did mention the spoilers. Gatsby has created a palatial wonderland across the bay from his lost love Daisy's mansion. He has hooked up with bootleggers, gangsters, to do so with inroads into Wall Street. He introduces politicians to crooks and profits handsomely by doing so. His sole desire driving him is that Daisy will show up at one of his legendary open parties full of outrageous consumption and ostentatious grandiosity. Every weekend is a free-for-all, but she never comes. He cannot approach her directly, as she is married to another millionaire, Gatsby's rival Tom Buchanan. Now Buchanan is a patriarchal philanderer with "old money," one of the blue-bloods who looks down on upstarts like Jay Gatsby. This class / money brinksmanship is central to the story.
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