I have been looking forward to seeing the modern film adaptation of one of my favorite books from high school. I saw “The Great Gatsby” last night and it was good but not great.
In case you don’t know, this is the story of a man so desperately in love with a socialite that he becomes wealthy beyond imagination to lure her back after a five-year separation. It was a five-year period wherein she married a fabulously wealthy man–who is a philanderer–and has a little girl who is ignored while her mother lives the decadent life of the idle rich in the early 1920s in New York.
She is not unlike the celebrities who live in fantasy worlds today. My question is, why would Gatsby want her? He has gone from rags to riches–not in the most honest way–and could have any woman he wanted. But he wants a classy woman whom every man would want. She legitimizes that he is now a gentleman, one of them.
Except he isn’t. He may be a gentleman but not from old money. He tries to pretend but real old money sees right through him.
The wealthy and foolish husband of socialite Daisy is Tom Buchanan who is from money but likes to party with the trashy wife of a local mechanic. With his own wife, he is the polo player who thinks he is better than others; with his mistress he can be what he accuses Gatsby of being. Gatsby, however, tries to be elegant all the time but is plagued by insecurities because he knows he really doesn’t belong. Money cannot buy class but, despite his ill-gotten riches, he actually has both.
The only one who recognizes this–and who cares–is Daisy’s well-educated but poor cousin, Nick, who is the narrator and Gatsby’s new friend.
He has the ability to fit in with the rich and the beautiful although he is neither. And maybe that is why he can relate to Gatsby, who pretends to be something he is not and strives for what is supposed to be beyond his reach.
Nick facilitates the reunion of Gatsby and Daisy, who loves Gatsby but not as much as he loves her. When the moment of truth comes, the disparity in their loves makes all the difference. Ultimately, it may be that Daisy doesn’t know how to love since what she cares about is her position and her lifestyle. She wants a fun, glamorous life and she does not want to make tough decisions.
She is not who Gatsby thinks she is and all his efforts–over-the-top parties, a grand mansion, his proximity to her across the water–are for naught.
The movie does a good job conveying Gatsby’s love, even obsession, with this unworthy woman, but it takes too long to get there. Too much time is spent showing the glittering parties and demonstrating the impact of Gatsby’s dilemma on Nick, who becomes rather obsessed with the hero of the story. Except there are no real heroes in this situation.
What makes this story captivating is not only the love affair but its relevance to today. We live in a world where people, especially the so-called beautiful people, embrace shallow decadence and don’t know what true love is. We are so used to it that we don’t see it for what it is, but, in seeing this movie, we can be critical of these purposeless, selfish people just like Nick is.
The movie, like the book, shows that the glitzy lifestyle that so many admire is not what it seems and is really not the path to happiness. In that regard, it is a film worth seeing.