By now most who will see The Great Gatsby in the theater have seen it. Reviewers and blogger's have already left their two cents worth on Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Unlike some blogger's whose reviews I have read, I did not re-read The Great Gatsby before seeing the film, last Friday, with my wife Kate. Some of those who did were disappointed with Luhrman's telling of the tale. I'm really not concerned with whether or not Luhrmann tell's the same story as Fitzgerald. Largely, because I've come to believe that the medium of our storytelling makes a difference, even who tells the story makes a difference. I will also say that I love Baz Lurhmanns and Cathrine Martin's style and vision. So, I went to The Great Gatsby not seeking to relive the Fitzgerald tale, but went to experience Luhrmann and Martin's retelling of the tale of The Great Gatsby, and I was not disappointed.
Luhrmann tells love stories, in quirky and fantastical ways. He also places you in a world, it may be the world of dance with a hyper realistic docudrama of Strictly Ballroom, or the more fantastic realism of Romeo and Juliet or Moulin Rouge, but in each of his films the world of the tale and it's limits are articulated and Luhrmann insists you live there. In the Great Gatsby we live in the world of a 1920's New York in which there is a Jay Gatsby. For the tale there is no other New York. This New York may have some relation to our New York and the historical New York, yet it isn't that place, rather it is the world of the tale, this particular tale of love.
In the midst of the telling of Gatsby's tale we are uncertain what story is being told. What love story, is there a love story, or is this just a sordid tale, of wealth, decadence and two powerful men fighting over a woman. The story has all the sordidness, corruption, and injustice found in Fitzgeralds tale, but unlike in my reading of the Great Gatsby, I found myself uncomfortably drawn to and feeling a twinge of compassion for this misguided man attempting to make his way and establish himself in the world of wealth and power and influence, all to win over a woman he loves.
What love is this that Gatsby has for Daisy. Isn't Nick Carraway correct when he points out to Gatsby that he can't go back to the past, that what he loves is gone, washed away like ink in water (visualized for us in the flashbacks where Gatsby's words in the letter to Daisy on her wedding day simply wash away as we attempt to read them on the screen) . In that confrontation between Tom and Gatsby, doesn't Gatsby show he loves a Daisy who has never married another man, who isn't 5 years older, and who doesn't have a child? Who does Gatsby love? What sort of love story is this?
However, this is not the love story, the story is not about the love triangle of Tom, Daisy, and Gatsby. We have seen hints of it throughout, the surreptitious looks, the watching from afar, the invitation, the intimate self revelation. Then in the end, the sole person who keeps watch at the wake and funeral, is Nick Carraway. Slowly the film unveils that what has lead Nick to despair isn't the drinking or the corruption, but the death of Gatsby! Once again Luhrmann has his hero write the story of his love, and we come to love what the writer loves. The Story to be told according to Luhrmann is Nick Callaway's love affair with Gatsby, this is the tale, and so Nick means it when he finally writes out the full title of his tale, The Great Gatsby,
This is the tale Lurhmann tells, in the flawed troubling empty world of Fitzgerald's the Great Gatsby, we see a troubled, flawed, deeply wounded human being as our beloved. We see that love both tears us apart and makes colors pop, and allows us to look with compassion on what may very well be unforgivable blind spots and actions. In telling a tale of Nick Carraway's love of Jay Gatsby we see Gatsby as loveable, and that makes the tale of the great Gatsby all the more troubling and empty. In the end Nick's love can't save Gatsby, and yet it perhaps redeems Nick Carraway.
And even if there is no redemption, it is one beautiful tale in the hands of Lurman and Martin.