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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Loneliness of Fortune - A Great Gatsby Preview - Guest Post

Guest writer Andrew Jamieson resides in Northeast England. He is the Owner of Isolated Press and the author of Safe: The Ghost Writer Chronicles. The following represents his viewpoints and not necessarily those of GeekRex.

As summer is just around the corner, we are starting to see some of the major studios’ tent pole releases, including Iron Man, Star Trek and the forthcoming Baz Lurhmann production ‘The Great Gatsby.’ Of all of these releases, it is Gatsby that I most eagerly anticipate. Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal novel, it is a piece of literature that has been endlessly, and unsuccessfully, adapted by Hollywood. Forgetting the dubiously bad Robert Redford adaptation,  forgetting Mira Sorvino’s solemn portrayal of Daisy in Robert Markowitz’s adaptation, let’s cast our eyes forward to Baz Lurhmann’s adaptation, starring the eponymous Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role.

For those unfamiliar with the novel, it is set during the 1920’s in New York. The narrator of the story is one Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who meets the mysterious J. Gatsby, a man who has an ambiguous past. Gatsby lives in a mansion where he throws parties that are revered by many of his socialite friends. Why does Gatsby do this? To attract his lost love, Daisy, a woman who has been the focal point of Gatsby’s heart since she left his life years ago. What follows is a treatise on the United States, excess, and, crucially, the memory of love. (Minor spoilers follow for those unfamiliar with the novel.)

The elements that make me anxious about the new adaptation is the fact that much of what has been promoted by the studio and director is the grandiosity and excess of the environments and characters of this story. While it is true that the original novel focuses on the partying, drinking and banality of many of the protagonists, Gatsby hides like a mouse behind the excesses of his peers. His futile attempts to conceal himself beneath a veneer gradually unwraps as the story continues.

The soundtrack producer on the new film, Jay Z, has said on the film: “It’s about whether or not Gatsby is a good person.” And he is correct. In the novel, Gatsby is a man who clings to a love that has been forgotten. His love for Daisy is an almost archetypal romantic love that can never really be fulfilled. It is Daisy who lets Gatsby down, and as she does, it is clear that the memory of his love for her was based on a fantasy  and not the reality that only close friends could reveal to him. Thusly, he has no close friends, as he does not want the façade of his romance to be destroyed. He creates the enigma of J Gatsby to keep himself away from what many of us would deem to be the truth: that we must let go of the past instead of repeating it. This makes Gatsby far more relatable and grounds the novel as a character piece rather than the excessive pornography of privilege that Lurhman seems to want to show us (in 3D, no less).

While I love the set design and costumes for the forthcoming picture, and as we know Gatsby “Always look(s) so cool,” I hope the director is able to marry this vision with a glorious take on the greatest and most ambiguous character in 20th century fiction. While the excess, costumes, and pizzazz will be provided by the visuals and modern soundtrack (which features Jay Z, Beyonce and the wonderful Florence Welch), it is key that the primary driver of this narrative is about context and character. One thing Lurhmann may also trip on is the fact that as the narrator, Garraway imbues The Great Gatsby with some of his own feelings and ideas - Garroway is actually an unreliable narrator.

Is the novel as culturally significant now as it has ever been? The value of this novel in terms of historiography and emotional dexterity is timeless. Are our emotions ever truly reliable? Can the  United States ever live up to the virtues set forth by Benjamin Franklin? Can we as people ever live up to the lofty ideals we see in literature, music, film and politics?These are time honored questions, whether in the 1920’s or a world in the grip of deep recession.

Overall, the trailers look stunning. Leonardo DiCaprio seems to be perfect for this role, as there are shades of J Gatsby in some of DiCaprio’s previous roles. The most obvious  being Inception, where he played a man defined by his past love, unable to let it go, while offering others access to an expansive façade (Cobb also dresses like he has walked out of a fashion shoot). The soundtrack features some great songs (Fergie and Q Tip aside), and we know from Romeo and Juliet that Lurhmann can weave a highly enjoyable yarn from lofty source material. Carey Mulligan is also a great talent, (as is most of the cast) and I am excited to see a new modern take on such a vibrant source.We’ll see if, beyond the excess, music and moral destruction, Gatsby’s character is treated with the respect he deserves. Here’s hoping!
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