Monday, June 10, 2013

The Great Gatsby film isn't great, but it isn't terrible either

by Derek Spencer

I saw the most recent film adaptation of The Great Gatsby not too long ago. Some critics have savaged it, but I didn't find it an affront to Fitzgerald's work. Of course, I didn't exactly love the film. I thought some elements of the movie were legitimately captivating, while others induced some serious eye-rolling.

Here's what I thought. Spoilers ahead, so take care.

What I liked:

  • The climactic apartment scene. The scene in which Daisy cannot bring herself to say that she never loved Tom is tense and emotionally draining.
  • DiCaprio as Gatsby. DiCaprio allows the paradox at the heart of Gatsby's character — his life is an absolute fabrication, but he's more real, more honest, than Tom or Daisy or Jordan or any of the old rich — to shine through. DiCaprio's Gatsby is vulnerable, and it's clear the director intends viewers to sympathize.
  • The visual style (generally). The film is bright and colorful, and it practically pops off the screen. The style works well with the source material — the book's a critique of excess and ostentatious displays of wealth; the movie replicates that excess with bright splashes of brilliant color. Very little in this film is muted, besides, of course, the Valley of Ashes.

What I didn't:

  • The treatment of the Jordan Baker subplot. Okay, what happened here? Jordan is introduced, she and Nick develop a quick rapport, a friendship seems to be developing . . . and then she just vanishes from the remainder of the film. Her character is a dangling thread, neither woven into nor plucked from the film's tapestry. Why introduce a character whose impact on the film is basically nil? I feel like I'm missing something, because I can't figure out what effect Jordan Baker had on the film's narrative arc. I don't blame the actress, who did a fine job — but I definitely prefer the novel's treatment of the character.
  • Visual representations of quotations from the book. At a few points in the film, quotations from the book are displayed on the screen, with various artistic treatments. I thought it was enough that characters spoke some of these iconic lines; displaying the actual words on the screen just didn't work for me. I felt as though I were being bludgeoned over the head — "VIEWER. THIS IS IMPORTANT. PAY ATTENTION." I know that Fitzgerald's novel isn't exactly subtle where symbolism is concerned (hello, green light!), but this was too much for me.

So, that's what I thought. Have you seen the movie? If so, what did you think? I'd love to hear your opinions on any and all aspects of the film — you can let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Have a wonderful day, and thanks for reading!

Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at Prestwick House. He has previously worked as a writer and editor on several lines of Prestwick House teaching guides. He will probably never be a film critic.

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