The Great Gatsby (2013)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Two elements conspired to tempt me to watch this film. Exhibit A being the gorgeous trailer and secondly, its costume design. Throw in a few film image stills via Google searches or reviews and those elements combined, ensured I’d rent this modernized re-telling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic.

The Great Gatsby

1930s America brings with it an entirely new way of living, especially for the wealthy. The bans on alcohol shift, Wall Street wants to lure the bright and ambitious, and motorcars are now the normal rather than exception. 

Young Nick Caraway (Tobey McGuire) was one of those being lured into the life. A northwester full of promise, he settles into his first home and work as a stock broker while waiting for his big break as an aspiring writer. Among this society, there's one man everyone buzzes about. A man who happens to be Nick’s neighbor, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Though he's not met him, Nick receives an exclusive invitation. 

Gatsby’s elaborate parties are legendary, and closeted appearances at those events leads to all sorts of curious party goers and speculation. Where does his money come from? Who is Gatsby really? Nick’s fascination with the whispered rumors are soon gone when Gatsby befriends Nick and in turn, Nick begins to see the world through the charming persona of Jay Gatsby. What Nick doesn’t know is that his married cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) is tangled in the past of his dashing friend. 

Stories that have no light or hope at the end are hard for me to accept, rectify and quite simply, like. There is often truth in their message, but that doesn’t mean I have to respect it. That is a thought that applies to this film. Since I’ve not seen any prior version, I cannot make comparisons, however judging this recent re-make, I have to say that not unlike its protagonists, the film left me feeling far emptier than I wanted – and I went into it with some small knowledge of its ploys. At its harshest, this script is a prime example of what it looks like when human beings allow trappings to sway their decisions and check their moral compass at the door.

Those of you who have read the novel and have a more transparent knowledge of the material will likely disagree, but this is one of the most unhealthy depictions of love and human behavior I’ve yet to experience. There is no warmth or genuine feeling in any relationship with exception to perhaps Nick’s loyal friendship. First we learn about a philandering husband and his equally very-married mistress. Before long allowances are made that facilitate another extra-marital affair and through it all, I never felt like the two people who were meant to be madly in love really were. (Therefore, rooting for them, even in their bad behavior, was a moot point.)

To be fair, there is one exception. Instead of being fleshed out in obvious ways, these characters beg us to look beneath the surface – to seek out what they’re running towards and really, that IS the best kind of characterization. Nonetheless, I remain unconvinced that Gatsby’s love for Daisy was “good,” it easily fell into obsessive. As for Daisy, her life may have been miserable (by no fault of her own), but in the end, she didn’t stand up for what was right. The film is a sad, beautiful kind of tragedy and even though it does admittedly have some good to say, I am not sure that makes up for its chaotic depression.

The Great GatsbyContemporary is a word that applies to this 20s era piece of candy. The music is overbearing with exception to once or twice. Adding to this, the film is way too chaotic – and this comes from a girl who actually likes movies to rip up the playbook and stand out (even the classics). There’s too much going on in too short a period of time and it’s hard to keep up with the pace – plus it doesn’t help that this clocks in well over two hours, making the film drag on in a few spots. One of the most brilliant things were the character introductions! Oh, my! I loved Gatsby and Daisy’s first appearances. Both sum up so much about the character, saying very little while doing so. In particular, Daisy’s first scene has a touch of whimsy and is staged gorgeously. This leads directly to the costuming, which is also a lovely thing to behold. Carey wears each of her confections quite well, though none are prettier than the “hotel room” scene.

In the end, I cannot recommend this for a host of reasons that mean something to me. Do I regret seeing it? No, but I also don’t see myself rewatching this one. Baz Luhrmann (Australia) does a spectacular job making this story… unique. His attention to detail and the scope of the film proves that he has a great eye for the “epic,” and I admire that. I don’t admire the story nor what Fitzgerald did to these characters. Perhaps, the good is that The Great Gatsby is a lesson in how not to live.

The question is how many of us will recognize this?

CONTENT: There is one scene of lovemaking [some movement under the appropriately placed sheets] and a secondary scene of moaning behind a closed door while Nick sits in the parlor – what follows are a group of people partying, stripping off clothes and drinking themselves into a stupor. Various other scenes depict drinking [in excess!] and there is some profanity. Innuendoes imply various extra-marital affairs. A woman is hit by a car with a bloody after shot of her as well as the impact – another character is shot and yet another commits suicide [we see the gun in their mouth and hear the shot]. The film rates PG13.


  1. I read the book, (and LOVED it) and I'll not argue, but absolutely agree with your opinion on the relationships in the story. I'd say it is very much a cautionary tale. The only difference is, I thought the book presented it much better and more obviously -- the film glorifies the romance too much.

    I also agree that the movie was too chaotic, and I thought too shiny. The cast was nearly perfect though. And Daisy's first scene is straight out of the book! :D

    Anyway, good review, you really hit on how it was done wrong even without having read the book! :)

    1. Knowing the general story kept me from ever having much interest in the book, Sarah. (Can you tell I prefer "happier" stories!? ;D) The "look" of this movie tempted me into seeing it plus I think Carey is one of the best British stars around today - and I like Tobey from the Spider-Man fame. Good to know your perspective as someone who read the novel; I didn't really like the romance at all. It seemed unhealthy and hardly genuine - his was "obsessive" and she was selfish.

      Usually, I like movies that are unique and throw caution to the wind, only this time... I think the parties or characters were too "out there" to feel satisfying.

      Thanks for reading - I try and always point out that I haven't read these classics because I know many fans like to point out things about the book and judge me remarks by that, and well, as a girl who hasn't read it, I like readers to know that I'm judging just by a cinematic perspective. That seems fair... or at least I hope it is. :)

  2. Having read the book first, I really just didn't like the story in general... mostly because my opinion is none of the characters are too terribly likeable... like they just provoke the reader. But then I went and saw the movie... still don't like the story, but I gotta give credit, the movie was well done.

    1. That is me as well, Natalie - or my opinion was much the same, formed from this film version. The characters are rarely likable and I don't sympathize with any of them. Or rarely. I suppose I did feel for all of them at one point. They all had everything and yet, each were still searching for something, and really, in the end, were miserable.

      Yes, the movie was well done; my only quibble with the production is that there was too much chaos.

  3. Haha, as I was reading that bit about the book, I thought Sarah would agree with you. I haven't read the book quite as many times as she has, but I think you hit the nail on the head with your analysis. It's a unique and intriguing book, totally unsuited to being made into a movie, in my opinion. While obviously not my favorite sort of story, I can appreciate it, especially keeping in mind that Fitzgerald wrote it in the middle of the 20's, to a society that was opening up to that sort of behavior.

    I think the movie makers missed the point, and went overboard with the glitz and glamor. Probably because we still live in a society that mostly accepts that kind of behavior, they didn't present it as the warning that it should be!

    1. Hey, Lizzie! Thanks for dropping by with your thoughts. :)

      I don't think much about there being certain novels/books that aren't suited to being made into films. Most the time, I figure if the right script writer gets a hold of the material, it could be golden. That being said... hmm... you may be on to something about 'Gatsby.' Perhaps it isn't suited to the cinema. This version was pretty, it just doesn't have much substance.

      Your last paragraph is well said. Everything *was* a bit "overboard." The 20s was definitely the start of a "looser" era and as such, perhaps filmmakers got a bit too invested in that glamour. :)

  4. I've been meaning to read the book for a long time now, though I don't exactly expect to like it. :) I definitely want to read the book before I see the film. And whether or not I'll like it, I do want to see the looks so gorgeous. Plus, I've had a bit of a crush on Leonardo DiCaprio ever since Titanic (that's not the best moral film, either, huh? :).


    1. There are so many classics I should read, Kristin, though to be honest, I don't see 'Gatsby' making that list. It's just... void of so much. Or in cinema form it is. Hope you get to read the novel - and then the film.

      The movie is pretty and far too chaotic. That being said, I don't regret seeing it and hope you enjoy it also. LOL, no, you are right, Titanic isn't the most moral film either. Never did watch it but I know how it all goes down. Still... we cannot help our love of some of these movies, right!? ;)

  5. That's kind of the point the author was trying to make -- an empty story, full of empty lives. I've always wondered WHY it's a classic, when there's absolutely no redeeming value in it. That being said, for someone who hates the plot, I actually enjoyed this film enough to consider watching it again at some point, which means the director did SOMETHING right!

    1. I think this director is a good one. He gives great attention to detail and I like his imagination. That being said, the movie seemed too "chaotic" for my tastes. Odd since I like films such as Bride and Prejudice.

      Yes, even having never read the book, I don't get the classic status either. But who I am to make that distinction. :)

      Glad you liked this version!

    2. The book is actually only about 200 pages long -- so it's an easy read. I suspect its classic status comes from the absolutely gorgeous writing rather than the content itself, although the content is a criticism of society in the 1920's -- and Baz actually made everyone much more LIKABLE on-screen; in the novel, the reader tends to hate everyone for being so stupid, selfish, and insipid.

      Baz always overdoes everything -- he also did Moulin Rogue! which is just plain insane (yet... I like it too).

    3. Oh, my, I'll say; I like the sound of it being only 200 pages! The shorter the book, the more motivated I am to read it. Or that's what I've been discovering.

      I remember you saying that you liked the characters MUCH better in this version than any other. Good to know. Mom saw the oldie version once upon a time (with, was it... Robert Redford?) and while she doesn't like this story in general, she did comment on preferring this 2013 adaptation over the prior.

      The 20s was a wild, crazy age or that is my impression. So, looking at the movie in that light, I suppose Baz wasn't too far off base. There has to be some creative license allowed, right!? ;)

  6. I totally hear what you're saying.

    I agree that Baz does a great job of putting his unique stamp on it, the costumes where AMAZING, and you're so right about that first scene with Daisy and the music.

    I also totally get your feelings about the story. I was glad I saw it but I will never ever see a remake of it again nor read it. I remember thinking, "Thank heavens I didn't spend time on the book." I kept hoping there would be some itty bitty of rightness (if you know what I mean) about the story.

    I do commend the writer though for several things:
    1. Showing us that sometimes you can have everything in the world and still be completely void of any goodness or love.
    2. He made me feel bad for an obviously obsessive man like Gatsby.
    3. I kind of think it could be a cautionary tale for young men too. If a woman doesn't love you for who you are, then she's not worth it. Gatsby could have been a happy man if he had just moved on.
    4. Real friends ask for nothing but your time in return.

    1. Sometimes I wonder how my rambling translates, Juju, so thank you for reading and sharing.

      Baz has a great eye for details and the unique. His epic Australia was also gorgeous, however aside from select scenes, this movie seemed TOO chaotic for its own good.

      That introduction to Daisy was just... lovely.

      Aside from demonstrating the despair in a life lived without purpose, there is no purpose to this movie. I guess above all, that IS the point of it. But, yeah... the horrible life the character's lived was depressing.

      1.) BRAVO! So often this is depicted in films or even an example being the Hollywood stars who have everything (materialistically speaking) and are still miserable because their life has no purpose or goodness.
      2.) There were times I felt bad for Gatsby also. His "love" for Daisy was unhealthy and she did nothing to help him "move on." Instead she was a selfish brat who had no genuine care for how obsessed he was with her.
      3.) *high five*
      4.) ...and again, YES!

      Well said, Juju - as usual, I appreciate you taking the time to share. :)

  7. I saw the film and wasn't too crazy about it. I agree, the costumes and staging were GORGEOUS (for days after every time I saw curtains I would feel the need to step through them while whispering, "Gatsby? Hwat Gatsby?") but the music was so off and was too much of an obvious attempt to stand out. As far as the story, I haven't read the book but I do know the Gatsby and Daisy's "love" was something that sort of had to be examined-- I've heard some people say they represent capitalism and consumerism--but overall I felt the film was sort of a cliffnotes for the book-- everything squeezed in and nothing fully explored. I love your review, it's spot on!

    1. Neither was I, Skye. While I don't regret having rented the movie, it just wasn't to my liking - to be fair though, I was confident of that going in, so it wasn't a surprise.

      The movie is, for sure gorgeous! That goes without saying. The sets and costuming breathes "life" into the staging if not the characters and that is worth something.

      Having not read the book, I too am unclear about what the "love" of Daisy and Gatsby looks like in novel form. Here, it was unhealthy and bordering on obsessive from my perspective. It's too bad in the end Daisy didn't do the right thing. Guess she was too spoiled and unwilling to let her life of privilege go.

      Thanks for reading - loved getting your perspective! :)

  8. I read the book in preparation for the film and loved it, and I really like what the movie did. For me, I saw it as a cautionary tale, a very real picture of how an obsession can grow to such a state that it's made the object of obsession more than it really is, if you get my point...that Gatsby's obsession with Daisy made her more than she really was - a very shallow person. Gatsby, despite being shrewd and calculating in many other areas, has a kind of naivete in the idea that life with Daisy will pick up where they left off, etc. To me it's a very powerful cautionary tale about empty lives. BUT, all that said, I can see how some people wouldn't care for it, and I think it's purely a matter of taste. :)

    1. Excellent analysis, Alexandra - as always.

      You are definitely right with your points and I agree; this is a story of how fast life can spiral out of control if we live dangerously. The idea of Gatsby and Daisy's "love" being anything but obsessive sees damaging in my opinion. In the end, she was his downfall and in the end, she lived up to her shallow character.

      I agree; to each their own. There is no right or wrong opinion of the film - it's definitely a matter of taste. :)

      Thanks for sharing this, Alexandra - always love your visits. :)

  9. I'm glad you reviewed this -- I've kinda kept an eye, kinda wanting it, kinda thinking no. Now I think I might give it a try -- mostly because of the 1920s fashion, which I find fascinating. I don't think I'll love it, but for a one-time view? Yes. I would do that. :) So yes -- I'm very happy you reviewed it! :)

    1. Right on, Charity! I don't regret it for a one-time view. The costuming IS pretty and the bright, chaos helps off-set the despair of the film's story.

      Let me know what you think if/when you see it. :)

      PS: Have you seen 'Downton' yet? The 3rd season started the unique 20s fashion.

    2. No, STILL haven't seen Downton. :( Really want to, in part because of the fashion, and in part...hello, it's a period drama! And everyone seems to rather like it! ;) So. Now that I'm living in a bigger city for college...I have access to a bigger library. I've got a reserve pending on Season 1.

      Oooo! We (a couple friends and I) got Merlin Season 1 and watched the first three episodes tonight. I've seen Season 1-4 and loved them...and my friends are liking it too! So much happy in me. :)

    3. ...well, it sounds like it's imminent - hope you find it worth the wait, Charity. :) I think S1 is the most clever but the following seasons have a lot of good also. Happy watching - cannot wait to get your thoughts.

      I started S4 of Merlin a while back and haven't gotten back to it. Golly, it's so much different than it once was. Still love it though - it's nice to see a younger, more comedic Merlin. ;) Now... we'll have to see if the BBC breaks our heart with their next series, The Three Musketeers!

    4. AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH didn't know about Three Musketeers! But. I looked it up and am now super excited about it. Like, a lot. I mean, seriously. It's got Santiago Cabrera aka LANCELOT (yes, THE Lancelot who's so sweet and amazing and awesome and sad etc) playing a main part! I've loved the book, but never seen the movie or any dramatization. So I'm really really really excited about this. Besides, BBC is just awesome. Yayz! You just made my day. :)

      And...look at that. We're back to long conversations in your comments, Rissi. Yay! :D

    5. Wait just one minute. You mean, you didn't know about 'Musketeers'?! Girl, how could we have let that slip by your notice! :)

      ...and that IS awesome - I guess I'd forgotten that Santiago a.k.a Lancelot was in this new series. How cool! That should be awesome.

      BBC IS awesome. And this show CANNOT come soon enough.

      Long conversations on the blog? Love them! :)

  10. Everybody here seems to be on the right page with what to do, but the style just overtakes everything they want to do. Nice review Rissi.

    1. Hey, Dan. Thanks for reading - and stopping by with a comment. Appreciate both.

      The "chaos" of the staging and parties seems to overshadow the entire story yet upon reflection maybe that's a good thing since it helps "brighten" the despair.

  11. I concur with many of the above comments. The Great Gatsby, obviously, isn't meant to be seen or read for it's morality. I like the period and I like how Fitzgerald shows that despite the outward appeal, there isn't much meaning in the parties or the excessive drinking or wealth. Gatsby was loaded, but money couldn't buy the one thing he wanted.

    *shrug* I had to study this book for a literature class a few years back, and after reading the book we were subjected to the 1970's book-to-movie adaptation. Needless to say, this one is much closer to the book and much more enjoyable for me, anyway. Glad you gave it a shot, Rissi!

    1. You are right, Rosie. And I hope that I haven't suggested disagreement.

      ...honestly, I did see that in this movie - that fame, fortune and partying only brought misery. However, what is so miserable about the film/story is that NO ONE learns anything! They all go on with their lives (with exception to Nick who was in a different kind of miserable) albeit still in misery as if nothing happened. I don't truly believe Daisy learned a thing - or felt anything for Gatsby. In turn Gatsby's "love" for Daisy was very unhealthy and she was far from worth it.

      Whew! Those are my thoughts anyway. :)

      Good to know this one was closer to the original - I've heard it's the best version as far as liking characters so... there is that. Plus, I don't regret watching it - even if only for the acting/costuming! It was terrific! :)


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