The Great Gatsby
Directed by: Jack Clayton
Starring: Robert Redford
For the synopsis please read my book review.
I've long been one of those people who look back on the past and grow a little obsessed with bygone eras. In my early teens I was addicted to the 1960s, it was the decade that gave us The Beatles after all. After I began reading the works of the beat authors I added the 1940s and 1950s to my growing "when I have a time-machine I'm definitely visiting" list. But right now, as 24 year old me, I would do anything to visit the 1920s. It was a visually stunning era, the architecture and design is bold and gorgeous, the hairstyles are to die for (and way to difficult to replicate...I've tried) and their fashion is unbelievably stylish, lady-like and luxurious. Add to that the smashing parties, dazzling music and inspiring authors and you have a decade I'd give my left foot to visit!
The Great Gatsby definitely manages to capture the visual gorgeousness of the time. The cast are all unbelievably attractive and look as though they've been transported mid-glamorous 1920s party. The women are all tall and slight, with cheekbones and jaw-lines that perfectly set off the finger curls in their hair and the haunts perched precariously on their perfectly coiffed hair. They radiate wealth and health and are completely at ease with several kilos worth of beads weighing them down on each outfit. The men look strong and stable, in their immaculate 3 piece suits, carefully gelled and curled hair, and jaunty stance with one hand in a pocket. The houses are grand and large and perfectly demonstrate their wealth and social standing, and make the perfect backdrop to the extravagant parties thrown with their champagne fountains and Charleston dancing. I came to the film (the first time) as an 18 year old longing for a time with some integrity and glamour, and even though the film is technically 50 years too late to the party, it captured the visuals as well as the spirit of the age to me.
Visually spectacular as it is, the film follows in the book's footsteps and creates a story not about the glamour of the age, but of the rampant hedonistic lifestyle and the isolation that author Fitzgerald recognised going on around him. Life appears so wonderful, there are parties, shiny dresses, abundant wealth (at least with this crowd) and twinkly lights aplenty, but none of the characters seem truly happy. Though some are obvious, such as Gatsby's heavy love for his old flame Daisy, most of them seem unable to truly verbalise what's missing from their life. Perhaps it's their preoccupation with wealth and decadent behaviours at the expense of true and lasting relationships, perhaps it's that their life hasn't panned out how they expected, or maybe they simply have expectations so high they could never come close to meeting them. Regardless of the cause, their distance from one another and from true happiness is clear in their expressions even as they dance wildly or talk a mile a minute. This is one of those films where, if you were to turn off the sound completely, you'd see a completely different story. By which I mean the subliminal would be markedly clear without their disingenuous words muddying the expressions on their faces.
This is the result of fantastic acting. The entire cast perform magnificently in their respective parts. They are so perfect for their roles, in fact, that I'm struggling to imagine the new cast (in the film to be released next year) looking anything other than clunky and fake. Mia Farrow is an absolute doll and a favourite actress of mine, and she manages to portray the shallow and slightly frail Daisy to perfection. It's not hard to imagine her being completely dominated by the men in her life, or cracking under the pressure and snapping like a twig (whoops, mixing my metaphors!). Opposite her, Robert Redford portrays the mysterious Gatsby wonderfully. He's strong and devilishly handsome, but there is this genuine calmness and quiet to him that makes it hard not to fall in love with him. He perfectly depicts the poor boy who worked his ass off (whether legally or no) to become the man his true love could marry. He's so sweet as he panics over Daisy's visit to Nick (her cousin, played by Sam Waterston) and then proudly shows off his house and possessions like a kid with his toys. The chemistry between these two is palpable, but there is a sadness through their entire reunion. Though Gatsby is the man (financially and socially) that Daisy could marry, he's too late. And even though they wax lyrical about their future together, you can see that both know that Daisy will never leave her (cheating) husband, and that their reunion has an expiry date.
The remaining cast that surrounds them perform beautifully and embody the characters Fitzgerald created with nuanced and elegant performances. Nothing feels like anyone isn't giving it 100% and no-one feels miscast. There are so many different characters that grace the screen during this film, most for a very short period of time, but they all impact it in their own way. The short glimpses at the socialites, professional conmen, businessmen, lower class men and women and party-goers adds a depth and sparkle to this film that makes it shine past other films set during the same period.
I think it's fairly clear that I absolutely adore this film. It moves me to tears every single time and I never grow bored. It's fairly consistent in representing the book, making only the slightest alterations, and never where it demeans or changes the text's original intent. This is a fantastic film for almost all audiences. There's a love story, a plethora of parties, a leading man with a mysterious past, adultery, and a damning critique on consumerism, wealth and decadent lifestyles. And if none of that sounds good to you, watch it for the yummy actors and actresses and beautiful costumes!
My rating: 5/5