Last week I watched The Great Gatsby directed by Baz Lurhmann and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan. Maybe you might be expecting me to review this movie on my blog, and I have considered it but I won’t. It’s not like I don’t have much to say on the film, but I rather do a comparison post between film and book at a later date when I have reread the book again. The Great Gatsby written by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favorite books, and to try and even talk about the movie in relation to the book would be difficult. It has been years since I’ve read Gatsby and my memory on all the details of the book are fuzzy at best. I don’t think I would do the post justice if I tried to review the movie.
While we’re on the topic of movies, I also saw Star Trek: Into Darkness last week too. I could have reviewed that movie for my blog, but there are plenty of good reviews on the film on other blogs as we speak. I’m taking a different approach for this week’s post. The Great Gatsby is a film where opinion is split down the middle. Rotten Tomatoes overall score for the movie is 49%, not the best rating for one of summer’s highly anticipated films. The general consensus is that while Gatsby is visually stunning, the story based on one of America’s best loved literary classics is drowning in its own fountain of champagne. This brings me to the man behind this film––Baz Luhrmann. No matter what your opinion of the director is, his films have the signature razzle and dazzle you’d expect from a Baz Lurhmann production.
If you are at all familiar with Lurhmann’s body of work, he has directed movies such as Romeo + Juliet (also starring DiCaprio), Moulin Rouge, and Strictly Ballroom. When you watch Lurhmann’s films, you start noticing a pattern in his style of work. All films are presented on a grand scale with a flashy and glitzy visual style. There is chaos and beauty when you watch scene after scene of his movies. Lurhmann creates a world where everything seems like one big, fun, and boozy party you want to be a part of. It’s as surreal as it is gorgeous to gaze at it. Watching his films feels like being on another plane of existence. It’s an illusion, a fantasy world you are meant to plunge right into for two hours of your time.
Lurhmann is one of those film directors you either love or hate. His films are full of noise and chaos when you look at them closely. The pretty visuals tend to take precedence over the actual story in the film. Romeo + Juliet is set in the modern world where carriages are fast cars and swords are shiny guns. Moulin Rouge can at times be liken to an acid trip with the dizzying can-can dances and the rush of people popping in and out of scenes like a demented Jack-in-a-Box. Strictly Ballroom, one of his earlier films, is much tamer in comparison to his later works but it still has that touch of sparkle and over-the-top spectacle you expect in all his movies. Almost all his films include a fancy party scene where he lets everything loose. The parties and costumes are decadent and the party goers are wild and careless. It’s similar to letting caged animals in a zoo go free and run completely amok.
There’s a scene in the movie Gatsby where Tom Buchanan (played by Joel Edgarton) surveys the out-of-control party scene at Gatsby’s massive mansion on Long Island and remarks to Nick Carraway (played by Tobey Maguire), “What a circus.” This particular line from the film stuck out in my mind because this line perfectly describes Lurhmann’s film style. It is a circus. Lurhmann is the ringleader in charge of the show and the actors are his performers who are ready to take their cues to put on the kind of show an audience won’t ever forget, whether you want to or not.
You can argue Lurhmann’s films have too much going on at once to really be capable of finding the actual story buried underneath all the glitter, glamor, and modern music selections blaring in the background. That’s the point of his films. They are a spectacle, which makes it enjoyable to watch if you don’t mind chaotic scenes and over-the-top flourishes. I do agree Lurhmann’s films has too much noise and pomp and circumstance to be taken seriously at times. Despite all that, there is something charming about his films and a giddiness that is infectious. Lurhmann’s world adds a dash of magic and a splash of color when reality seems drab in comparison. His films invite you to leave your cares and worries at the door and enter his world of wonder and splendor.
Lurhmann’s films are also capable of those quiet, intimate moments to bring out the visceral heart of a story, despite critics believing the contrary. In my opinion, you have to be patient and look for those moments. It’s subtle, but it’s there. When the lights dim and the parties fade, all that’s left are the characters and their relationship to each other in Lurhmann’s world. The best actors are chosen to play parts in his films and when it’s time to lay all the emotions bare, they are ready to go to bat. Moulin Rouge has made me cry the first and second time I saw the film, thanks in part to Nicole Kidman’s performance as Satine and Ewan McGregor’s performance as Christian. This Romeo and Juliet-esque story has the kind of love story that is both epic as it is heartbreaking. Without these actors in the role, I doubt I would have been so moved. I enjoyed the song and dance that made up the entirety of this movie, but it’s the performances by the actors I remember the most.
Romeo + Juliet made me fall in love with DiCaprio’s Romeo and Claire Danes’ Juliet. They are young and in love, and you are taken along for the ride. It’s that same romantic rush, despite knowing how it all ends for these lovers, that made me long to find a love that will incite the kind of feelings these characters have. At least it’s better to love than to not have loved at all. Life is fleeting and if all you have are a few precious moments, one would hope you can spend it with an incredible love. Those are the feelings I took away from that film when I was a kid. I’m sure I’ll feel the same way now if I watched it again.
As for Gatsby (DiCaprio in the role many have said he’s born to play), it draws out feelings anyone can relate to. These are feelings of hope, longing, and determination. Gatsby’s story is tragic, if you have read the book at all before seeing the film, but he’s a lasting character in Lurhmann’s latest adaptation you can’t forget about. Lurhmann’s films are a heady trip to be a part of, but it’s a ride I don’t mind taking again and again when you have characters who refuse to let you forget about them once you get past the smoke and mirrors.