Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Dramatization Of A "Great" Classic

This is one time I can write about a movie without having to worry about giving away plot points.  It's safe to say that anyone who's been through an American high school has been exposed to F. Scott Fitzgerald's condemnation of the conspicuous consumption of the 1920's upper class, The Great Gatsby.

As in Fitzgerald's 1925 novel, Nicholas "Nick" Carraway (Toby Maguire), a newly arrived resident of the fictional West Egg, New York, narrates the exploits of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the cast of sponging ne' er-do-wells who attend his lavish parties during the summer of 1922.  In fact, the film's plot was remarkably true to the book, right down to the presence of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg's God-like eyes.   What makes this movie version different than the book is its tone.

Director Baz Luhrmann, creates a colorfully over the top world for the story's characters to interact within.   Everything from the mansions to the parties to the noir-esc downtown settings are exaggerated to the nth degree, producing caricature-like representations of reality.

At one point, Carraway explains feeling like he's in a downtown party and on the street below looking up at the party at the same time.

“…high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life” 

The visual texture of the scene has an almost cartoon-like quality, strongly reminiscent of Frank Miller's movie Sin City.  This effect adds to the excessive tone of the film, further removing it from reality.

Somehow, this choice of tone creates a greater empathy for Gatsby.  When I read the book, I saw the character as nothing but a dreamer who couldn't cope with the uglier aspects of reality.  When the party stopped he literally didn't know what to do with himself, except to pine for Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan).

This facet of the character is definitely in the movie as well, but the audience is also exposed to a noble side of Jay's character, which I never felt was present in the novel. The result is a main character which movie goers can root for as fervently as Nick does.

I give The Great Gatsby 85 out of 100 points.

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