If I had to say what I thought of the recent Baz Luhrmann adaptation of The Great Gatsby, I would say that I loved it. For me, Gatsby has always been a story about love — the American love story.
I loved it, but I am too close, too in love with the novel, so much so that it has become a part of my own identity, as the romantic ideal of which I judge myself.
The film made me fall in love with the book again, and I read it again before seeing the film. I read it many times as a young man who tried to find his Daisy, and found her. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever laid eyes upon, and yet she was seeing a rich asshole from Chicago, and I was poor dreamer from Boston trying to be a writer. But I won her heart, because my love was stronger, and maybe she was a little better than Daisy, and things worked out for me, but only because I didn’t have to give her up.
Despite the personal connection that I can’t shake from my mind, trying to be objective, if that’s possible, I would say the new film is a powerful and amazing interpretation, and that a novel is a novel, and a film is a film — and where adaptations are concerned, the two must meet in the middle. You can’t repeat one as easily as the other, just as you can’t repeat the past. Unless of course you suspend your belief in reality, like Gatsby did.
But to enjoy the film, you need to suspend your belief that the novel is too holy to be interpreted.
I would also say that this film is a natural progression from Moulin Rouge. It’s another great love story told in an amazing spectacle. The word spectacle comes to mind as in ‘spectacular’ and as in a spectacle to behold. (As in “Spectacular, Spectacular” — another Moulin Rouge reference.) Luhrmann wants to hold our gaze in all his glorious splendor of the Jazz Age, as he poses the eternal questions of beauty, truth, and love (the bohemian ideals) but now turned to this great American love story. The characters, the script, and the setting are all breathtaking, and I can find no fault with the performances, now having seen the film twice.
The music is haunting, and even song choices like U2’s “Love is Blindness” reveal so much. For Gatsby is like credit, like the enduring American notion of hope, that we can always deserve more, that we can always “go up.” That we can borrow against fate and tempt fate. Gatsby is an American Faust who tempts fate for love when he sells his soul to Meyer Wolfsheim — but he does it for love. Gatsby would do anything for love, and it’s all for love. To get back the time, the moment when you were loved.
Yet, the past eludes Gatsby as it overtakes him, as he grasps for it. But he’s really trying to reach back for the love he once had. I can forgive Gatsby for believing, for loving, just as I can forgive Fitzgerald, and I can forgive myself for my own failures.
Thanks to Fitzgerald — and, now, Luhrmann — Gatsby will live forever.