There are many reasons I could love The Great Gatsby. I could love it because of the fact that the story is a brilliant deconstruction of the lifestyle and mindset of the American rich, specifically of the 1920s but also of today. Baz Luhrmann’s characteristic opulence and glamour, previously on display in Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet, is sometimes condemned as being ridiculous and over-the-top, but I found it quite appropriate to this story by highlighting the luxury and absurdity of the era that F. Scott Fitzgerald was criticizing. However, this is not why I love The Great Gatsby.
It’s also special because of the music. Not only because of the high quality of the music, but the way it is used in the film. It’s one thing for a film to feature a song by Florence and + Machine; it’s a completely different thing to have Florence Welch croon a haunting serenade about being “over the love” and “letting the morning come” while Nick Carraway is waking up hungover from one of Gatsby’s parties the night before, the music mixed in such a way that it sounds like she is just sitting in the next room. Many films have theme songs or leitmotifs, but this film takes it to the next level, with Lana del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” being played at least half a dozen times, each with different tempo, instrumentation, and tone so that it fits the feel of each scene and still ties the story together as a whole. But, this is still not quite why I love The Great Gatsby.
I love The Great Gatsby because of the character Gatsby. As summed up by Nick at the start, “he was the single most hopeful person I’ve ever met, and am ever likely to meet again.” Gatsby is neither a hero, nor a villain; he is merely a tragic figure, in the tradition of Hamlet and Othello. He is a beautifully tragic hero, because of his flaw: he is loyal to Daisy to the absolute end, even to his death. This makes him an incredibly noble individual in his own way, but what’s sad is that his complete devotion to Daisy blinds him to the fact that in the end, despite all her beauty and kindness, she is not worth the undying loyalty he shows to her. In the end, the only thing wrong with Gatsby is that he loves too much. And Leonardo DiCaprio’s interpretation of Gatsby portrays this so well; you can feel his awkward nervousness before he is about to see Daisy for the first time in five years, you can see the love and longing in his eyes when he looks at her. Yes, the way he says “old sport” constantly gets a little irritating, but I think that is balanced out by the way he is able to so perfectly portray the beautifully tragic and hopeful man I came to love from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, a man so completely overwhelmed by love and dreams that it blinds him to everything else in the world, even his own life.
All in all, while not absolutely perfect (the first 45 minutes or so are a bit slow, I will admit), I believe Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation is a beautiful and (mostly) faithful adaption of what is in my opinion one of the best books of the 20th century. If you are not a fan of the book, then at the very least give this film a chance. Give Jay Gatsby a chance to tug at your heart with his hope and love. Who knows, perhaps you’ll come to believe in the Green Light, like Gatsby, and like me.