Tuesday, April 01, 2014

A splendid mirage - The Great Gatsby

Despite Jack Clayton’s Robert Redford and Mia Farrow starrer in 1974, no movie has been able to capture wholly successfully the vivid pose version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 tale ‘The Great Gatsby.’ The same can be said of Baz Luhrmann’s cinematic venture of the same name.

Obsession and tragedy

The 2013 remake of the movie unveils the tale of the young millionaire Jay Gatsby who becomes part of Long Island society in the 1920s. His life is spent hosting parties dripping with champagne and watching other people enjoying themselves. The only flaw in his existence is that he is in love with the married Daisy Buchanan with whom he has had an affair with five years ago.

Nick Carraway makes his entrance into this setting and becomes Gatsby’s neighbour. He is fascinated by his landlord’s mysterious past and lavish lifestyle. Gatsby too takes a liking to the young man and invites him over to a party. Carraway meets Gatsby at the party and discovers that he is not the old business magnate he imagined him to be but a good humoured youth with an infectious smile and a catchphrase that he uses to address his allies as “old sport.” Carraway is soon drawn to Gatsby’s circle and becomes a witness to obsession and tragedy.

Like the charming Leonardo DiCaprio himself ‘The great Gatsby’ is a handsome attraction. This is a film which takes classic source material and imbues it on screen with a sense of wonder commensurate to its prior form. Glamour and mammoth sized sets are the highlights of Luhrmann’s version of ‘The Great Gatsby.’ It is more of a extravagant and luxurious wonderland which is brought before the viewers than reality. Therefore there is an aura of unreality in Luhrmann’s vision. It operates more like a lucid dream rather than the real thing. Gatsby unashamedly flaunts his wealth to court the favour of the society and the society in turn, despite the rumours circulating about him, is only to eager and to grab these opportunities with both hands.

Simply beautiful

The parties are tastefully decorated. The director takes the trouble to describe what kind of people as well as what kind of deeds are taking place in the events. The backdrops of the scenes are either full of colour or details. Some scenes are simply beautiful. The rain soaked reunion between Gatsby and Daisy too work beautifully on screen.

A lot of symbolism is involved in the movie. One of the interesting points in ‘The Great Gatsby’ is that the audience is made to identify with Carraway. Similar to the would-be writer the viewers too are much part of the party as well as outside of it. We too stare up at the windows of the mansion behind which lark all kinds of human secrets but only see ourselves staring back via the reflection.

The green light at the end of the Daisy’s dock is a trance like-beacon from the start, the pendulum that hypnotizes Gatsby and, in turn, the audience. At one point a shooting star is projected to symbolize Gatsby’s love for Daisy.

It also drags a bit too much to stay interesting. Apart from the storyline we get quite a number of scenes which could have been cut out of the story because they merely drag the film. One such scene involves how Daisy and Carraway spent their time exploring Gatsby’s mansion, the house he ostensibly built for Daisy. This itself is a powerful statement but Luhrmann further emphasizes this by creating a picture-perfect setting for their romance to blossom again.

Hangover and a headache

DiCaprio makes a smart Gatsby. Though the storyline is a bit similar to his famous ‘Titanic’ pursuit, the actor has reinvented himself for Gatsby’s role, adding a sly nod to his famous heartthrob characters. When the filmmaker finally introduces him to us after a few shots from behind and afar and with a handful of hearsay, it is delightful to see that DiCaprio lives up to the introduction. The image of him holding up a champagne glass with fireworks exploding behind him and the climax of “Rhapsody in Blue” crashing on the soundtrack is a fitting tribute to his role.

Tobey Maguire does well as Carraway. Joel Edgerton’ does his bit as Daisy’s bullish and unfaithful husband Tom. Isla Fisher is effective in her appearance as Tom’s mistress. Even Indian screen Mogul Amitabh Bachchan makes a presence in the movie as one of Gatsby’s acquaintances.

The bitter pill of the casting is probably Carey Mulligan who seems ill at ease in Daisy Buchanan’s shoes. Mulligan is naturally too empathetic to pull off the cruel carelessness which is required of Daisy’s character. Nor does she fit into the picture of the enchanting heroine who has Gatsby bewitched for five long years.

‘The Great Gatsby’ is very much like the New York society at that time - full of excess and emptiness. Much like Gatsby’s parties overflowing with champagne it is initially intoxicating yet ultimately its overdose brings on a hangover and a headache. - Ruwini Jayawardana