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Monday, 26 August 2013

The Great Gatsby: The movie

First, I am indebted to bookssnob (a book blogger, whose review you can find here) because I read a positive review on her blog that inspired to watch this movie despite all the negative, scornful reviews.

I love this shot. Particularly Leonardo DiCaprio in it.

On another note, does anyone else despise Daisy as much as I do? It's very un-subjective and un-analytical of me, but I can't help it. Especially with DiCaprio as Gatsby.

I saw the Baz Luhrmann version of The Great Gatsby recently (my review of the book can be found here). This seems to be one of those movies people love or hate. Despite whatever flaws I think the movie had, I think I fall squarely in the love category.

Let me start with Leonardo DiCaprio's performance as Gastby. I read some reviews where the critics where not of that opinion, but personally, I can hardly see what he could've done better. Maybe say 'old sport' a little less, because that definitely felt slightly overdone, even if it was in the book, and is one of Gatsby's (only) trademarks. I understood Gatsby through DiCaprio's interpretation in a way I never understood it through the book. I don't know how close his portrayal is to Fitzgerald's idea, but to me it seemed pretty damned close. If another director, with completely different sensibilities were to make The Great Gatsby, and cast DiCaprio in the same role again, I would watch it, as long as his interpretation stayed similar. I felt the tragedy, the irony, the pathos, the true emptiness that Gatsby's death leaves, because I was captivated by his performance. If Daisy (played by Carey Mulligan) were real - I could truthfully say she'd probably be one of the people I most hated on the planet, because to me, almost nothing could justify a betrayal of a love so total and so magnificent. For some reason, although there is actually very little similarity, I was reminded of Dhanush (Kundan) in Rhanjanaa, a recent Hindi movie. Maybe it's the level of devotion to an ideal that only they see. But in Rhanjanaa, Dhanush is something of a stalker. I can understand, even forgive Sonam (Zoya) for what she does. Gatsby's passion, while being a similar level of infatuation, is less stalker-ish, less possessive... I can understand how such a passion could be too much for someone to handle (particularly someone who maybe doesn't reciprocate that passion with the same level of intensity). I can perhaps understand - if I try really hard - Daisy's cowardly disrespect of Gatsby's memory (by not acknowledging his death), but I cannot, as reader or a viewer, forgive it.

I am slightly more mixed about Carey Mulligan as Daisy. I think she is a good actor, but I'm not quite sure how much she was Fitsgerald's Daisy. I hated her as much - or more - in the movie, but I don't think that's enough of an indication that she matched the idea of Daisy. In the book I was sympathetic to Daisy all the way until Gatsby's funeral, and then I lost it. That is, of course, in a way the point of the story - Gatsby's enormous potential and passion lost on a woman who cannot even decently mourn his passing - it very poignantly brings home the vast hollowness behind the glittery facade and the raucous, hedonistic parties. In the movie, Daisy seems more weak than 'careless' (one of the most famous lines from the book is "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money of their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made"). I'm not sure this completely comes through in the movie, although this line is quoted verbatim.

I liked Toby Maguire as Nick Carraway. Carraway was almost completely overshadowed in the movie by Gatsby, but I liked Maguire's performance nevertheless. There was one scene particularly - where after having waited the night, Gatsby is still expectantly awaiting Daisy's call and says something to that effect to Carraway. Carraway murmurs some agreement but you can see in his eyes the knowledge that Daisy will never call. It was a perfect expression - a moment that spoke volumes.

I thought one of the flaws of Luhrmann's Gatsby was the nearly non-existent portrayal of Carraway's and Jordan Baker's relationship, and the complete under-development of Carraway's and Baker's characters. It's unfortunate, because Baker was such a wonderful character in the novel - one of my favourites, in fact. Here she has - or seems to have - a very minor role comparatively.

Luhrmann has been criticized for his lack of subtlety in this movie. I think that there are some scenes - such as the party ones at the Gatsby mansion - where subtlety would be a mistake. Gatsby's parties should be completely over-the-top and overblown. It's fitting. But there are places that I thought his portrayals were childish, literal interpretations - and depictions of certain sentences in the novel. For example, when Carraway goes with Tom to Myrtle's place one night, and they have some sort of party, Carraway says something about being within the scene and without at the same time. In the movie, this is - literally - shown as two Maguires, one within and one without. That is a subtitle that I think viewers could do without. It's a little insulting to their intelligence.

But overall - I came away from the movie somehow moved by the story. It might have had more to do with my finally, actually understanding what I'd earlier read in the novel, than with the actual movie itself. But I'm not quite sure. I think there was some magic in the movie, a life that DiCaprio breathed into Gatsby that showed me his character, and a depiction that helped me understand the undertones and themes of the novel in a new way. If I were a movie critic, I'd find this movie extremely difficult to rate.

You've got to have some guts to meddle with a classic of this stature. And for his guts and vision, I'd give Luhrmann 4 stars out of 5.