On Friday, Sage and I both saw The Great Gatsby…but not together. Gasp! Sage saw it in 3-D while I stuck with 2-D. We thought this would be a great moment to not only discuss our thoughts on Gatsby (as we are both unabashed Baz Luhrmann fangirls) but the whole 3-D craze in general. It seems like most of the event movies for the summer are in 3-D…so when should you pony up the extra $5 bucks and when should you see movies the good old-fashioned way? And if stories like The Great Gatsby are not being made in 3-D, what’s next? A 3-D adaptation of a Jane Austen novel? Seriously.
I had always been hesitant about seeing Gatsby in 3-D. What was the point? I tend to be 3-D skeptical anyway. Yes, it works BEAUTIFULLY in movies like Avatar, Life of Pi, and basically any animated film. I quite enjoyed the 3-D conversions of Titanic and Jurassic Park. But did the final Harry Potter movie need to be in 3-D? No. For every movie that looks stunning in 3-D (usually because it was MADE for it) there is a movie where the conversion looks shoddy and cheap and basically feels like a money grabbing move by the studios. I go to the movies a lot, and they are expensive in New York City, and the audiences are less and less respectful of the whole experience. I nearly MURDERED the couple sitting next to us in Gatsby last night. From climbing over us to get to their seats and then immediately getting up to go get snacks to talking to each other loudly in Spanish through the whole movie to constantly pulling out phones to the noise the woman’s ten million bangle bracelets made every time she moved, they were without a doubt the worst people in the world and I had had it with them after two hours to where I finally told them to shut the fuck up.
Anyway, once I had heard from my friend Chelsea that the 3-D in Gatsby gave her a migraine and made her vomit, my choice was made. I would be seeing Gatsby in 2-D, even though Baz had clearly shot it for 3-D. Do I think I missed anything? I could definitely tell the difference in the first half hour. The movie LOOKED a little flat and a bit fake at first. It felt like watching an older movie on a super high-definition television. I was hating the movie in general the first 25 minutes. I was worried my friend wanted to walk out (which I would have NEVER let happen, but still). That is a Baz Luhrmann signature move. The first half hour of all of his movies tend to be incredibly frenetic and overwhelming and then a moment happens that grounds the movie. Think of the fish tank scene in Romeo + Juliet. Think of the moment Christian starts singing “Your Song” in Moulin Rouge. Up until those moments, both movies had been quick-moving, hyperactively edited and you barely have a moment to catch your breath and truly CARE about anything but the moment the lovers meet or the hero is revealed changes everything. And so The Great Gatsby settles down the moment we meet our titular character and my opinion of the movie completely changed after that. Much of that is clearly thanks to a brilliant performance by Leonardo DiCaprio.
No one else could have been Jay Gatsby in my opinion. From his golden boy looks to the heartbreaking sincerity and optimism, Leo embodied Gatsby so perfectly that you couldn’t help but fall in love with him. His first meeting with Daisy was achingly awkward (the reveal of him soaking wet on Nick’s porch!) and the sequence where he gave Daisy and Nick the tour of his house was magical. Leo’s Gatsby truly was, as Nick says at the end, better than all the rest of them. He deserved so much more than that twit Daisy, so it killed me to see him cling to that dream so desperately. I said it in high school and I say it as an adult: Daisy Buchanan is the worst. She is flighty in the worst way and utterly spineless and she destroyed Jay Gatsby more than that bullet ever could.
While I thought a lot of the movie was an amalgamation of Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, especially towards the end (substitute flowers for candles and crosses and Gatsby’s funeral is essentially Juliet in the tomb), it worked for me. The ending, with Gatsby coming out of the pool thinking that the phone call he is about to answer is Daisy, is so tragically Baz Luhrmann. It felt a bit like Juliet reaching out and touching Romeo right as he took the poison, but like I said, it was effective. I was clutching my friend’s arm the whole time and was devastated at the reveal that it was actually Nick on the line. And the way Baz floated Nick’s words on the screen at the end felt a little Moulin Rouge, but damn, it created a beautiful image with the snowflakes being letters.
One more thought before I turn this post over to Sage: no director today understands the power of music like Baz Luhrmann. Two of my favorite moments in the film were musically driven: the use of “Rhapsody in Blue” at the end of the party where we finally meet Gatsby and the moment where Jay and Nick are driving over the Queensboro Bridge and you hear a slight swell of “Empire State of Mind”. Sure, it’s anachronistic, but it WORKS. That music may be modern, but it evoked the emotion of those moments and that time. New York in the 20’s was a “concrete jungle where dreams are made of” and no one was a bigger dreamer than Jay Gatsby. Do I wish I had seen the movie in 3-D? While I am sure the party scenes were spectacular, other than that, my emotional experience was fully satisfying.
And I didn’t vomit afterwards.
I’ve waxed rhapsodic elsewhere on this blog about my unconditional love for Baz Luhrmann. Without a doubt, he is my favorite director. AND a known silver fox. Whatever, it’s relevant.
His work is polarizing, to be sure. I’ve yet to meet anyone without a strong opinion on his films, one way or the other. Love or hate the Luhrmann aesthetic, you have to respect his complete commitment to his vision. Baz never tentatively approaches. He never half-asses. I was lucky enough to see him speak a few years ago, and he was very literally unable to stay in his seat when answering questions about his work. He paced back and forth on the stage, so that he could direct his passionate, gesture-heavy ruminations on inspirations and collaborators directly to the questioner. He is 100% doing his thing, and of course it’s not everyone’s bag. Attempting to please everyone is a one-way-ticket to mediocrity. As two very astute musical theater geeks once wrote, “I’d rather be nine people’s favorite thing than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.”
I’m no 3-D devotee. I can take or leave it when it comes to most films. The way I see them mostly depends on the way that the people I’m going with want to see them and whether or not I feel like I can spare the extra $3 at the time. But in this case (and like Kim said), I was letting my director call the shots. Baz says “3-D,” I say, “Hand me those glasses, bitch, we’re about perceive some depth up in here.”
In contrast to my co-editor, I ADORE the first frenzied act of every Baz movie. It IS overwhelming, but not in an unpleasant way. The dizzying pace puts the audience in the same head space as the character who is our stand-in – i.e. just like Christian the writer and Nick the bonds man, we’re trying to acclimate ourselves to a new world. And the 3-D tech was put to effective use in those scenes. Disorientation is the name of the game – it’s the goal, not a failing. And Jay Gatsby’s parties are supposed to be the most decadent, heady, giddy affairs you can imagine. If Nick Carraway is feeling lightheaded then we should be too. Lightheaded, and a little bit in love.
The extra depth gave the party scenes a quality that was half fairytale, half video game. From the framing to the casting of the dancers, Gatsby’s blowout was clearly reminiscent of past Luhrmann films. I was half expecing Harold Perrineau to show up in a wig and give us a little “Young Hearts Run Free” realness. In fact, the whole structure of the film was a callback to the “Red Curtain Trilogy.” Baz has a very specific, direct way of storytelling. He loves myth. He loves allegories with universal themes. And that’s what Gatsby is – yes, the characters are timeless. But the book is most celebrated for exemplifying a time period and defining a generation. Luhrmann approaches from that angle and always does. He starts with honoring the impact of the story and lets the actors take care of the authenticity of the characters. It makes me laugh when people criticize his films for not being “realistic,” because they couldn’t be missing the point more. He never, ever wants us to forget that we’re watching a movie. Fitzgerald certainly doesn’t shy away from heavy metaphor either, so it’s a match as far as I’m concerned. In fact, Baz’s use of the 3-D technology to emphasize F. Scott’s tentpole symbols (zooming the camera into and away from the green light on the dock; the snow dancing over Dr. TJ Eckleberg’s eyes; Gatsby’s shirts raining down on Daisy) made the film for me.
That said, I didn’t care for the unnecessary framing device of Christi-, I mean NICK, writing down his story in the sanatorium. Part of the appealing mystery of the novel is that we don’t know who Nick Carraway is speaking or writing to about his time on Long Island. I’ve heard grumblings about Tobey Maguire’s performance, but I thought he was perfectly adequate. Nick is a cypher and the audience’s access point to that mad world of new and old money. Plus, he and Leo have been partying together IRL for YEARS. Why not do it professionally? Tobey played Nick’s increasing disillusionment well, and nailed his final line to Gatsby: “They’re a rotten crowd. You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”
And Leo. Oh, Leo. I co-sign absolutely everything Kim wrote about him. The key to his Gatsby was the vulnerability that existed under every single word and would occasionally bubble over onto the surface. He was almost childlike, and not only in the scene where Nick accuses him of “acting like a little boy.” Perhaps his Jay was more innocent and less controversial than canon (the whole Meyer Wolfsheim connection was sort of glossed over), but I certainly felt for him every step of the way. Also, it’s fantastic to have him reunited with Baz, who gave us the gift of what is maybe the best introduction of a DiCaprio character ever. Cigarette. Beach. Open shirt. “Oh brawling love, oh loving hate…” Radiohead’s “Talk Show Host.” You know what I’m talking about.
Carey Mulligan’s Daisy was lovely and spineless, which is just about right. And Joel Edgerton was a brutal and cowardly Tom. Jordan Baker got the shaft in this adaptation, which is another one of my complaints, but I enjoyed Elizabeth Debicki. How fantastic did she look in that sculpted bob? I’m not entirely convinced she didn’t time travel here from the 20s.
Valid criticism is valid, but all in all, my entire philosophy on Baz Luhrmann can be best expressed by the words “haters to the left.” If you like his style, you’ll like Gatsby (even with its problems). And if you don’t, you won’t. I don’t see him adopting 3-D full-time, but, of any director, I was not surprised that he was excited and eager to take on the challenge just this once. And whatever unsubtle, over-the-top, too-much project he takes on next, I’ll be right there with him.