On why “Gatsby” is so great, and why you should see it twice.

Published May 17, 2013 by mandileighbean

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Well, I suppose I have put it off long enough; upon seeing the film twice, it is long overdue for me to share my thoughts on the most recent cinematic adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby.  However, before I discuss the movie, I must make it known that there are spoilers abound and that I am – as one student charged me – almost unhealthily obsessed with the novel.  I read it every summer and have particular passages committed to memory.  The novel changed my life in the sense that it helped me to decide that I wanted to be a writer and while I struggled in that endeavor I would teach high school English.  The novel also confirmed in my mind that I could be hopelessly romantic and naïve in a dignified sort of way that made me more of a heroine than a sap.

That being said, I left the theater the first time with an uneasy kind of feeling.  I was not sure how I felt about what I had just seen, other than that it was visually stunning and somewhat emotionally moving as I was dabbing at my eyes behind my 3D glasses.  Was it the 3D component of the film which left me unsettled and uncertain about my level of enjoyment resulting from the viewing experience?  I actually tend to avoid movies in 3D as I find them incredibly hokey – call me a snob, but for me, 3D movies lack artistic integrity and forsake story and structure for the almighty dollar.  3D is a gimmick that unfortunately seems here to stay.  Like I said, I am being a total snob and robbing a medium of all of its merit because it does not suit my particular taste, and though doing so is unfair, it is what it is and I will not apologize.  I will, however, advise my readers to take everything I write with a grain of salt, considering the extremities of some of my artistic prejudices.

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But allow me to hobble off my soapbox to contradict myself and explain how the 3D worked so well in the movie.  The scenes that depicted Gatsby’s lavish parties and outrageous lifestyle had to be filmed in 3D, I now realize in retrospect.  Consider the adjectives I just employed; lavish and outrageous.  What better way to convey such excess than through the 3D element?  It did look as if the confetti were raining down upon me, and so helped create the illusion that I was simply another Nick Carraway, within and without in the vast mansion, reveling and sneering at the reckless, careless behavior unfolding all around.  Though Nick did not have to pay for his admission ($13.25?!  Really?!), I believe my doing so was completely worth it – and mind you, I did so twice.  The 3D party scenes helped to create an almost tangible sensation of claustrophobia.  As Nick squeezed through Gatsby’s front doors in an impressive throng of strangers, and as tensions soared and tempers flared with the heat in that cruelly cramped room at the Plaza Hotel, I felt smothered and that I was too close.  Like Nick, I had had enough of everyone.  The way the 3D manipulated my emotions and even level of physical comfortableness was both complete and masterful.  I was impressed.

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So why was I so undecided after the first viewing?  I considered this as my second viewing began, and thought maybe the casting did not quite sit right with me.  However, when Leonardo DiCaprio is first shown in the film, when he turns and offers that glorious smile that Gatsby gave Nick and so impressed him with in the novel, I am smiling and smiling so that my muscles are sore and I am seemingly incapable of stopping.  I must admit though that I have always been enthralled with the idea of DiCaprio playing Gatsby.  Conversely, I was thoroughly disappointed with Tobey Maguire being cast as Nick Carraway, hoping for a larger personality, an actor more likeable.  But I noticed that when Maguire plays Nick as disoriented, disappointed, disillusioned, or drained, I felt the same.  Though I love Jay Gatsby in a way that only a complete and total lonely, melodramatic bookworm can, I was frustrated and disgusted with him when Nick was in the film – performing a complete 180, as they say – and I can only contribute that to Maguire’s performance.  When I read the novel, I am staunchly loyal to Gatsby in an irrational kind of way.  For Maguire to prompt me to question that loyalty after years and years of nothing but is a testament to his talent, and I was too harsh when I first judged his casting.  Joel Edgerton as Tom was flawless and Carey Mulligan played Daisy brilliantly, although I did not find her able to create a more sympathetic character; she was just as repugnant to me on screen as on the page, but I think that is a matter of personal taste.

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Then was it the incorporation of the modern music?  Though many of my students complained about the anachronistic soundtrack and score – which greatly surprised me as I believed it, was engineered with them specifically in mind – I rather enjoyed it.  I love art and I love style and the music aided in putting the film over the top in both respects.  I love the thought behind it, using modern day music of another generation of excess to show the universal, transcendent dangers behind such thoughtless, selfish behavior.  The novel is timeless, so the music does become an inconsequential detail, but to drive that point home with the very same music as the vehicle is genius and daring, and I cannot help but be impressed.  I also compulsively listen to the majority of the soundtrack which means I must enjoy it (unless it is only for its connection to the novel, which is stretched and strained to be honest).

So if it was not the inclusion of 3D nor the cast nor the music, then why was I less than impressed upon the initial viewing?  How could I fall so completely in love with the film after watching it a second time?  Are not first impressions the most important?  Upon pondering these questions, I am left with only one conclusion: my mood.  What had been going on with me?  What had been different about the second night?

I cannot remember being so excited for a theatrical release.  I bought my tickets early online and like a child at Christmas, could hardly sleep the night before.  The day of the film dawned and I was ecstatic.  I wore my shirt with pearls to school, falling short of the zeitgeist aura I was going for, but the students appreciated it, especially the sophomores who had read the novel with me earlier in the year.  They knew that Friday was “Gatsby Day,” and that I had planned my lessons accordingly.  We watched the trailers, noted the visual and auditory symbolism, and tried to decide if Baz Luhrmann assumed those viewing the film had read the book.  I was so captivated I even cheated – for lack of a better term – and showed the trailers to my freshmen classes to inspire them to see the film, read the book, or do both.  I barely survived my weekly hour of home instruction, excitedly and breathlessly discussing my plans for the evening with the student’s mother.  I went to the spring concert for chorus and band at the high school because of a promise to my students, and they seemed genuinely excited to see me and I was genuinely proud of them.  I was beaming and sad to leave a little early, but one student even said to me as I was on my way out, “Aren’t you seeing the movie tonight?”  I was pumped.

The movie started at 9:30PM, but I had planned to arrive at the theater around 9:00PM to avoid crowds, buy snacks and to avoid any anxiety.  I made these plans with my viewing companion whose name has been stricken from the record to prevent any kind of social faux pas.  So when it was 8:45PM, I left the concert (missing the last song, mind you) and called my viewing companion, fully prepared to meet this individual at the theater.  However, I was somewhat perturbed to learn that at 8:45PM, mere minutes before show time, the individual was at CVS with plans to continue on to Wawa.  I let it go though, because I realized that everything was within minutes from home and that I may have been overzealous in planning.  There was no guarantee the theater would be mobbed and purchasing snacks beforehand would be cheaper and would save time.  I relaxed and my viewing companion decided to meet at home just past 9:00PM.  I headed home and waited with juvenile excited.

9:00PM came and went … as did 9:05PM … as did 9:10PM … as did 9:15PM … as did 9:20PM.  We did not head to the theater until 9:30PM.  I was furious, seething.  Having planned meticulously and purchased the tickets, I could not fathom how someone could be so absolutely thoughtless.  To make matters worse, upon arriving at the theater, we had to wait on a lengthy line for our tickets despite being already purchased, and then I was charged twice (but I was handed a cash refund, so really, I can’t complain).  By the time we are actually inside our designated theater, the previews have started and the screen is malfunctioning.  It seemed that nothing could go my way.  Perhaps at that point I did not want to enjoy the movie to aggravate my viewing companion who, ironically, enjoyed it very much.  But that would be cutting of my nose to spite my face, wouldn’t it?

The second time around, my viewing companion who is named Raina, was not only on time, but early!  We went to an absolutely gorgeous dine-in theater in Edison.  We had a drink each, a delicious entrée and shared a delightfully sinful dessert.  Despite the food, I was more aware of my response and involvement in the film, my changing emotions that never failed to match those of the narrator and the way I ached for Gatsby and despised Tom and Daisy.  I felt as though I had taken a long, hard look at myself and those around me.  I was Nick Carraway – observing, within and without – but I wanted to be Gatsby, unfailingly hopeful and tragically romantic.  When I told Raina that I was Gatsby, she agreed without hesitation.  My first viewing companion actually turned back to me as we walked along and said, “You really want to be romantically tragic, and like a hero in a story, don’t you?”

Of course.  That being said, go see “The Great Gatsby.”  And do yourself a favor: see it twice.

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