The Great Gatsby has gotten very mixed reviews. Most of the negative reviews have been a bit snobby and nit-picky in my opinion. It’s to be expected. Whenever anyone tries to adapt a classic piece of literature to film, reviewers often feel (or feign?) strong attachments to it and review cautiously. But I will be honest and say that I liked the movie and I think you will too.
Here’s a run down on some of the aspects of the movie:
1. The Music: Ok, people, Baz Luhrmann likes to use anachronistic music in period films. Did anyone expect anything different? And yet, some seem shocked as if their aesthetic sensibilities have been brutalized unexpectedly with a soundtrack that blends a variety of hip-hop songs with jazz from the Roaring 20s. I liked it. It may seem like a cheap tactic to some but I think it is pretty genius to use the power of music to emotionally snatch an audience and thrust them unwittingly into a time they otherwise may not understand or know much about.
3. Was Nick Supposed to Be Gay? Some are criticizing the movie because they believe F. Scott Fitzgerald intended the character of Nick Carraway to be homosexual, but I am not convinced. Our modern minds like reality to revolve around our groin area, but I don’t necessarily think Fitzgerald made Nick indifferent to every character in the book, with the eventual exception of Gatsby, in order to make a point about his sexuality. I think Nick is aloof and detached because that is what makes him a good narrator, and it is also what helps the reader put faith in Nick’s love for Gatsby; he sees something in Gatsby that is not in the others. If Nick were gay and in love with Gatsby it would throw doubt on the objectivity of his whole narration – I see no evidence that Fitzgerald would have wanted to throw that kind of wrench in the story.
4. Was Gatsby a Catholic? In the short story “Absolution,” which was later cut out of the book, Fitzgerald recounts a story from the childhood of the Great Gatsby. The boy is a good Catholic growing up in the Midwest and the story revolves around his fear that he has committed a terrible sin. So, it would seem that F. Scott Fitzgerald intended the character of Gatsby to be a baptized Catholic.
I’m not sure Gatsby’s Catholic roots were the intention, but in one of the closing scenes you can catch a glimpse of the Gatsby mansion gates inscribed with the Latin words Ad Finem Fidelis. You would never see the Latin for “Faithful to the End” on a papal coat of arms though, because these words describe God more than they describe a person (which perhaps is why Sr. Helena Burns’ review of the movie compares Gatsby to God).
I did not think of Gatsby as a God figure though. I see him as a man who replaced God with another idol, Daisy. The real tragedy of Gatsby is not that he made money, wealth or fame his idol. These are the idols of other characters in the book. In the end, these things were only important to Gatsby insofar as they brought him closer to Daisy. At least Gatsby’s idol was a person, (hence why Nick prefers him to the others). But when we love a person like we are supposed to love God, it only turns love into an obsession. God is the only one who can withstand obsessive love because his infinity can live up to and endure it.
5. Glimmering All the Time: Almost every review I have read of this movie has criticized Luhrmann’s over the top visual and, at times, superficial style, but I think it is appropriate to the themes in Fitzgerald’s book. People were attracted like flies to Gatsby’s parties, but in the end it was all a shiny wrapper with nothing inside. The Roaring Twenties were much the same, frivolous parties, great music, but ultimately a huge, “crashing” disappointment as the decade came to a close.
“Absolution” further sheds light on how Luhrmann’s style is appropriate. In the story, the young Gatsby goes to his parish priest and tells him that he lied in the confessional. The priest seems to be a person who perpetually feels he is missing something important, obsessed with the allure of the world, and he barely listens to the boy’s concerns. He responds to the boy with nonsense like, “My theory is that when a whole lot of people get together in the best places things go glimmering all the time.” He then encourages the young boy to go to an amusement park because “everything will twinkle.” Upon hearing the priest, the young Gatsby comes to the conclusion that there is “something ineffably gorgeous somewhere that [has]nothing to do with God.”
This movie captures the priest’s words that inspire the young Gatsby. It definitely was “glimmering all the time.” It was a superficial glimmer, but that is the glimmer of the world.
And of course this was probably not Fitzgerald’s or Luhrmann’s point, but I will add that as a baptized Catholic, Gatsby was ultimately meant to immerse himself in the glimmer of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Now that’s a party that never ends.