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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Great Gatsby

Read my latest movie review at christianfictiononlinemagazine.com. Here is the link:
At the Movies - The Great Gatsby

Enjoy a good flick with Leo taking the helm as the doomed Jay Gatsby.

Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is all the talk this summer, a must-see blockbuster based on the book written by the renown F. Scott Fitzgerald. Almost every American teenager has been forced to read the novel in either middle or high school, sparking a fascination for the “Roaring Twenties.” It was a decade of decadence that is still shrouded in mystery—from the excessive wealth and frenzy for strong drink and debauchery, the freedom of women from the corset, long skirts, and carefully coiffed up-dos, and of course, the introduction to the flapper gals with their short bobs, drop-waist dresses, and gyrating dance moves. And then there is Leonardo DiCaprio playing the lead role, reprising Robert Redford’s rendition of the infamous Jay Gatsby. Redford was wonderful in the 1974 version with Mia Farrow, but Leo is perfect, fantastic, wonderful. He really is one of America’s finest actors, displaying a depth of emotion and intensity unmatched by others, in my opinion. His looks are still boyish, though he has matured since his Titanic days. Youth, romance, hopefulness, believing in a world where “love conquerors all” exudes from his eyes and smile—it can’t be helped. The mother in me wants to rescue him from certain doom, while the romantic side longs to be swept off my feet. There is a fascination for the iconic Leo that surpasses explanation. He is special, unique, and extraordinarily appealing.
            Putting Leo aside, Luhrmann’s cinematic feast of stunning costumes, Newport mansions with lush gardens, exquisite food that makes the tongue salivate, and wild parties that exude a strange level of order, all adds to the allure. The entire film drips with color, depth, and texture that defy anything I have seen on screen. It’s like a ten course gourmet meal in a fine French restaurant, complete with a plethora of rich, juicy meats, savory sauces, and frothy desserts. Friends who have seen it in 3D claim the experience is worth the extra ticket price and wearing those hideous hipster glasses. Even in 2D, it is a must-see film.
            As for the story, I wasn’t as enamored as some, and to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the book, although I acknowledge its importance. I never “got” the love story between Gatsby and Daisy (played by Carey Mulligan), even though there is plenty of heat coming from DiCaprio. Even the Redford/Farrow film duo left me wanting more. I guess I realized from the beginning their romance wasn’t based on reality, but was rooted in some convoluted fantasy lodged deep in Gatsby’s mind.
            So why the attraction for this story? I believe it is because of Gatsby’s love for the American dream and his tenacity in making it his own, despite the dire consequences. He represents a generation of poor US citizens born in the twentieth century to immigrant parents, having a first shot at the excesses of American wealth. Many of them were intelligent, bright, and industrious, but were held back by their foreign roots. Like Gatsby, they changed their names, altered their speech and diction, and learned to dress and enjoy the finer things in life. Some studied and worked hard, saved, and built a solid future for their families, keeping a firm hold on their integrity. But not so for Gatsby. One look at the beautiful, wealthy Daisy, and suddenly a different set of rules was needed. What she represented is what every immigrant’s son wants—legitimacy, respect, esteem.
            Surrounded by rich, refined suitors, Daisy claimed to love Gatsby, who was just a poor soldier-boy during WWI. He believed her, hoping their love would enable her to wait for his return from the front. But practicality won the day, and she married Tom Buchanan (played by Joel Edgerton) and his vast fortune, settling for a boring life of luxury built on a bed of heartache.
            Instead of moving on, Gatsby held fast to the dream, believing Daisy still loved him. Compromising what integrity he had, he moved quickly and quietly into her sphere of influence, hoping she would wander back into his life. Bootlegging, gambling, financial fraud, and perhaps prostitution are intimated as sources of his meteoric rise from obscurity to vast wealth. Nothing was known about him—he was a man without a past, or so it seemed, which birthed a cloud of rumors, shrouding him in mystery and intrigue. His excessive, wild parties were unexplained and his notable absence made their nightly habit almost bizarre. But as the film’s narrator, Nick Carraway (played by Tobey Maguire), discovers, all of Gatsby’s excesses were for one purpose: to regain Daisy’s love.
            Ironically, Tom Buchanan has what Gatsby wants, but has no revelation of the preciousness of the prize. Men like him, born into wealth and privilege, take their lives for granted, casting off their Daisys for fleeting sexual encounters with married floozies from the opposite side of the tracks, such as Myrtle Wilson (played by Isla Fischer). It’s a reminder to us all that fallen man is never satisfied with what he has—his fascination with sin and its temporary pleasures are as destructive to him as Gatsby’s fantasies of a respectable life with Daisy. To a man like Tom Buchanan, the world of a romantic dreamer like Jay Gatsby is a fabricated house of cards, ready to fall at the first gust of a strong wind. History proved him right, and many who trusted in the quick, easy wealth of that age were destined for a mighty fall. The Great Depression followed the stock market crash in 1929, bringing that era to an end. Death and destruction were its author, as the art department so cleverly portrayed in the film. On the banister of Gatsby’s grand home were two long, fat, golden snakes twisted tightly around the railing. It makes me wonder whether the Lord has Bible scholars working behind the scenes on movie sets in order to send subtle messages to the viewer.
            If all this is true, why would Nick Carraway consider a man like Jay Gatsby, great? Carraway lives in a small, modest cottage, works hard at a job he hates, studies so he can advance in his career, all the while longing to be a writer. Carraway represents the man who plays by the world’s rules, obediently following the safe path, being careful not to be lured into the danger of the risk takers, fanatical entrepreneurs, and foolish dreamers like Gatsby. But the truth is that Carraway admires Gatsby, as so many of us do when we hear stories of great men who rose from the dregs of poverty to become lauded captains of industry. They are men who will stop at nothing to get what they want, who will never stop hoping and believing in what is in their heart, even though the reality of being exposed as a fool looms before them. Men like Gatsby have a hope that defies logic, a hope that sets aflame the hidden desires of some, while striking the fear of God in others.
            *** SPOILER ALERT ***
            Even though Gatsby was murdered in retaliation for a crime he didn’t commit, forgotten and forsaken, bankrupt, destined for obscurity, a man with no legacy other than his relentless convictions, he believed in something with all his heart and never allowed himself to give up. He believed Daisy loved him and not Tom, that she would come back to him, that she would marry him and help erase the past as easily as an eraser to a chalkboard. But it was all an elusive dream in Gatsby’s mind, like the flickering green light at the end of her dock which he had often tried to cup in his hands.
            What a sad story for many of us, but not for Jay Gatsby. As the fatal bullet entered his heart, he hears the ringing of the telephone and gazes upon that flickering green light in the distance. Daisy was calling him after all, she did love him, she was his. He sinks down into death, believing he has won, but of course he hasn’t. It was Carraway on the line, warning him of the destruction to come. Daisy’s established name and old-money wealth are like a mirage in the desert, as elusive as a lottery ticket missing that one crucial number. Gatsby’s pursuit of her and all she represented brought about his ultimate demise.
            There are so many lessons to be learned from The Great Gatsby, but perhaps the most important is the notion that there are two types of people in the world, easily separated based on how they might answer this lingering question: Is it better to have never tried because you believe the prize cannot be won, or to have tried and believed to the very end that success was yours? We know how Gatsby would answer.

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