The Great Gatsby occupies a place on my Top 10 List of All-Time Great Novels. The number assignment changes according to an assortment of variables. For example, if I am feeling particularly frustrated with the indefatigable dominance of patriarchal ideology, Gatsby and another favorite, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, suffer the consequences. While my rebellious streak can never condemn them as other than brilliant works of literature, the books’ abhorrent depictions of female silliness and vapidity (not, to be forthright, that the male protagonists fare much better), tend to grate with more intensity during these moods.
And so it was that I suspended a healthy dose of skepticism and nurtured some genuine excitement over the release of Baz Luhrmann’s take on the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic. Luhrmann, director of such favorites as Romeo and Juliet (starring Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio) and Moulin Rouge(Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor), is known for dazzling visual spectacles and over the top musical numbers. Gatsby, a cautionary tale of fame, delusion and excess, seemed ripe for the Aussie maestro’s cinematic touch.
I did some investigating and discovered that the local movie palace just two and a half blocks from my apartment building, small, affordable and boasting a full bar (you really haven’t lived until you’ve seen the epic Lincoln on the big screen while piss drunk), had gussied itself up with 3-D technology. But while I took a look at the show times for the day, working up an impassioned plea for companionship to deliver to my partner JC, my eyes fixated in horror. Just under the listings for Gatsby, I saw it: Star Trek Into Darkness. Shit.
JC is a man of science: an avowed atheist, purveyor of logic and the man who bored me to tears just last night with exclamations of wonder over a formula for predicting the likelihood of random molecules generating life. We’ve both got the left side of the brain working (Hey! Creative types like logic too!), but I prefer to wallow in the intuitive, thoughtful, subjective realms in general. But as I mentioned, I tend my left side too and I suddenly knew with absolute certainty that there was no way I could talk my man into visiting the Jazz Age without a quid pro quo. I would need to travel to space: the final frontier.
A deal was struck and we did Star Trek Saturday evening, the legend of Jay Gatsby on Sunday. Here’s the result for which I wasn’t prepared. I really, really liked Into Darkness. I had made a diet-busting selection of giant popcorn, Raisenets and a trough of fountain Cherry Coke before we settled into our seats. The idea was that if the film bored me, the food coma would carry me through the credits. But the backup plan proved unnecessary: solid dialogue and character development with some really cool visuals in service of a good story. Not much more I could have asked. Also, I like this incarnation of sexy, struggling with his humanity Spock. Yum.
The same, depressingly, could not be said of the much-anticipated Gatsby. There was, by comparison, a curious lack of humanity. Like the titular character himself, the film was all glitz and no substance. I was intrigued by the Roaring 20s meets Hip-Hop soundtrack, the screen presence of Leo and the amazingly youthful face of Tobey McGuire, but all other elements were either too much or not enough. Too much party, too lifeless a Daisy, too much delusion and ennui (on the part of the filmmaker), not enough fidelity to the original narrative or respect for the unspoken nuance.
And so I learned an important lesson about presumption during this weekend at the movies: don’t judge the prospective validity of art by source material prejudices. I would read The Great Gatsby in Pig Latin a hundred times over before I’d touch a science fiction tome. But literature and film are two different mediums, and after four failed attempts from big Hollywood heavyweights, maybe it’s time to leave the cautionary tale of Jay Gatsby to print.