The Great Gatsby is rightfully a true transportation of Fitzgerald’s novel, because much like the way American society changed from the roaring 20’s to today’s technologically dominated era, the representation of the story of Gatsby changed in the same way. Materialism never left, it only grew and the people continued to be consumed by things and stuff rather than the intangibles of human connection. Everything is a show in Luhrmann’s adaptation. From Gatsby’s nightly fiestas thrown for the glitzy gossipers of New York City to even the most intimate moments of love and compassion between Jay and Daisy, the characters, their interactions, and their feelings are constantly suffocated in a lurid set decoration which just piles on the luxury. This leaves no room to real thought and no place for Fitzgerald’s literary genius to shine through and make the same profundities that swirled in the minds of readers as they read his novel.
This is a ‘Gatsby’ for the 21st century, for an audience brought up on movie adaptations which concentrate too much on the place setting or ‘style’ and less on the characters, and one which strives at any cost to ‘entertain’ through panning cameras over CGI landscapes instead of letting the story, the spine of the book, dictate the essence of the film. Why else would a director like Baz Luhrmann have chosen a story like this other than to make his signature mark of eye-popping sets, loud thumping hip-hop jazz fusion, and dizzying camera work (see Moulin Rouge, Romeo+Juliet)? However much of a transportation The Great Gatsby may be, their is no real transportation into the characters lives. We are taken through sky-view pans of several parts of New York, we’re flooded with flowers, gowns, alcohol and red velvet, but the one place Luhrmann’s camera can never seem to gaze into is the essence of the characters Fitzgerald created because they are buried far too deep in the production values. In the scene where Gatsby first lays eyes on Daisy after 5 years, the emotional jolt we should be getting is once overpowered by the colossus of flowers placed in the living room. Luhrmann goes even so far as to give us a glamorous shot of Nick standing in the rain instead of letting the camera be with Gatsby and Daisy in the house, completely detaching us from the love and history between the two. Nick’s revelations of Gatsby are many a times reduced to his Courier typeface (sometimes scripted) words fading in and out with strange dissolves of the city, Gatsby and Nick himself. It’s as if Luhrmann didn’t think the words of Fitzgerald were enough, that they needed to be accompanied with what can only be called ostentatious visuals to be able to sink into any one of today’s movie-going audience. In a way he may be right, but to deliver it willingly like this, is like covering every healthy fruit or vegetable in layers of chocolate because that’s the only way your kids are gonna eat it.
It’s always an endearing thought when a filmmaker in Hollywood decides to take on a novel like this, because amidst all the poor adaptations of tween girl fantasy kitsch, to think someone dug way back into the 20’s and gave one of America’s greatest literary classics a good hard look is a bright light in a dark cavern. So, you can imagine why it is all the more disappointing when such a great story is given the same hollow and showy treatment as low-brow fantasy adaptation. “The Great Gatsby” seems like the perfect kind of story to tell today. A marvelous masterpiece from the past written so eloquently and with such delectable detail by F. Scott Fitzgerald is, at its core, a tale of how dreams can die at the hands of destiny. How, one cannot always get what they want and how they want it, and whatever hand one is dealt in his life is his to play how he chooses it, but once the cards are folded, you can never get the same hand back. This is something Jay Gatsby wouldn’t accept. It’s a beautiful little story which would resonate lyrically with today’s audience. It’s too bad director Baz Luhrmann wasn’t as interested in this as much as he was in his editing tricks, flashy camera movements, gaudy costumes and blindingly sun-lit gardens. In all the ambitious production values and obvious fervor Baz Luhrmann put into creating a Roarin’ 20’s New York, he let Fitzgerald’s words drown the same way Jay Gatsby did in his undying wish to relive a romance from his past.