I have this rule that I always go by: I never read any reviews before I go to see a new film, just as I never flick through catalogues prior to an exhibition. I feel as if the raw opinion, my raw opinion, would irrevocably be altered by assimilating somebody else’s point of view beforehand. And so I went one night to see Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby with nothing more than a candid memory of Fitzgerald’s novel – which I’ve read in high school – accompanied by considerable enthusiasm. I have been looking forward to this adaptation for a couple of years now, and the trailer(s) announced something quite remarkable.
One can trace a solid parallel between the experience of watching The Great Gatsby and taking LSD. You feel overwhelmed, dazzled, hypnotized, stimulated, crazy. But somehow something doesn’t quite fit. Imagine having this uncanny feeling and not being able to put your finger on the exact spot. It might be too eccentric, but you feel like doing an injustice by dismissing it. I left the theatre with a mix of confusion and bewilderment, and it took me a while to get a hold of my thoughts. Getting home, my intrigue increased as I couldn’t stop myself from post-rationalising every single scene. I started searching for reviews online, driven by the urge I had for confirmation. And it doesn’t take long to find it:
And the list goes on and on. All of them accuse Luhrmann of aesthetic vulgarity. And by all means, they are not far from the truth. Take, for instance, the party scene at Gatsby’s mansion: an eclectic juxtaposition of bombastic scenes, most of the time lacking in substance and some may say even in taste. This is not surprising, I dare say, considering Luhrmann’s predisposition for lavish displays. We’ve seen it in Strictly Ballroom, in Moulin Rouge, he even “messed with” Shakespeare in Romeo + Juliet. However, it appears that here the public might be less inclined to forgive him. And the soundtrack follows the same trajectory; some of the scores fit beautifully and some seem completely out of place…it is so frustrating to imagine what might have been more appropriate. In fact, one can easily conclude that the director’s exaggerated enthusiasm, in this case, gets in the way. In an interview for The Stylist Magazine, Luhrmann labels himself as an “extensive research junkie”. I agree. This is always a wonderful asset to have. He also says “I get completely lost in it. It is such a culturally rich period, how could you not love it?”. Again, I agree. But this is not enough.
It would be a lie to say that thee movie is all bad. No, there is definitely a lot going on in there, and Luhrmann’s enthusiasm transpires through every scene. On the same note, the viewer can almost feel the passionate – but ultimately consuming – romance firsthand: the actors do a great job in this direction. It is, as David Denby put it: “When Luhrmann calms down, however, and concentrates on the characters, he demonstrates an ability with actors that he hasn’t shown in the past.” DiCaprio does a wonderful job (except for the fact that he is overzealous in depicting Gatsby’s phrase “old sport” ), Mulligan makes a very volatile Daisy Buchanan; Maguire seems a bit too passive sometimes, but Edgerton was born for the role of Tom Buchanan, one might presume. The epoch’s ephemeral and capricious character is, also, unquestionably well transposed, as long as one sticks with the tête-à-tête scenes. And this forms the most frustrating part: Luhrman can, if he wants to. So why try to overdue it and risk being percieved as shallow?