By: Mary Fran Bontempo
Having read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in high school (and probably college, too), I recall feeling ambiguous—about the book, the characters, the whole confusing, tawdry mess.
And I’m still feeling that way, only this time, it’s about director Baz Luhrmann’s lavish film adaptation of the book starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the mysterious Gatsby.
Of course, any excuse to look at Leonardo DiCaprio for two hours is fine by me, but even Leo couldn’t change my ambivalence about the proceedings.
The sets and costumes are glorious, the acting first rate (with the possible exception of Tobey Maguire, who just kind of gets on my nerves regardless of the role) and the film is true to the novel. Which may just be the problem.
The Great Gatsby is a novel about unlikeable people. Rich, spoiled, deceitful, delusional, corrupt—there’s not a hero among them. The power of this nasty crew to suck people in is most evident with the involvement of Nick Carraway, narrator of the story, neighbor to Gatsby and cousin to Gatsby’s secret love, Daisy Buchanan, married to the philandering Tom Buchanan.
In the film, Maguire as Carraway narrates the story, and is sucked into the sordid goings-on as the seduction of money proves too hard to resist. Carraway is used, by Gatsby, by Daisy, by Tom, becoming the novel, and the film’s pawn, who unwittingly, or perhaps not so unwittingly, sets in motion the events that will lead to tragedy.
Gatsby is a love story, at least if Gatsby himself were the teller of the tale, and as a woman, I always want to root for a love story. And at first, I did, until each character’s inherent shallowness and ugly nature showed itself as the story progressed. Even initially sympathetic characters are tarnished by the movie’s end.
DiCaprio does a fine job of capturing Gatsby’s essence—what we’re allowed to know of it, that is. Gatsby is a creation—of Gatsby himself, crafted to win the woman his misguidedly loves. Would that he saw the world as it really was, perhaps the end would not have been so terribly tragic.
I’m still not sure how I feel about the movie. Glad I saw it, but recommend it? I still don’t know. I guess not much has changed since high school. The Great Gatsby is still a puzzle.