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The Great Gatsby: The super-rich in the jazz age let the good times roll

A brash new film version of the classic American novel, The Great Gatsby, struggles to be more than the sum of its spectacle, writes Josh Hollands

Issue No. 2354

Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby living a fantasy

Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby living a fantasy


Director Baz Luhrmann’s new film, The Great Gatsby, is based on  F Scott Fitzgerald’s tragedy written in the 1920s and set in New York. 

Luhrmann has stayed with the original story of Gatsby the poor boy obsessed with rich and married Daisy Buchanan. 

Gatsby becomes a billionaire and believes he can buy Daisy’s love with wealth and power. 

Luhrmann has repackaged it to fit with his overblown visual style and a modern soundtrack. And it still raises questions—can anyone ever truly change themselves, can love transcend class and can the American Dream ever be obtained?

The story has come to epitomise the Jazz Age. 

It shows the excess and hedonism of a ruling class enjoying a financial boom in Wall Street and greater sexual freedom. 

Pushing

But they are pushing themselves and the country towards the stock market crash and the Great Depression at the end of the decade.

 Luhrmann has said he wanted to make the film because of its relevance to today’s world, still reeling from the 2008 financial crash.

The film shows the corruption the rich use to shore up their power. The speakeasies where they drink illegally are filled with police commissioners and politicians conspiring with gangsters. 

The rich are not just shallow and wasteful, they destroy lives by amusing themselves with ordinary people who can be used and discarded at a whim. 

It also shows the millions of African-Americans on the move to northern cities during and after the First World War. They went north for jobs and homes and jazz music grew out of their experience. 

Women too went into factories and struggled for independence. 

In Gatsby’s world there is a clear commodification of sexuality—women are objects for rich men’s affections. 

The soundtrack populated by current music stars must hope to help a modern audience relate to the story. It also reminds us that jazz has been central to all modern forms of music. 

The track by Jay Z, $100 Bill, makes the link between the 1929 crash and the financial crisis today explicit. But at times the music spoils the mood of the period. 

This version tells the story well, but has too many visual gimmicks. The 3D, CGI effects, and general cinematography have a dizzying and unreal quality. 

Luhrmann said he hoped these would create greater “intimacy” between the audience and characters, but all it has done is show their world for exactly what it is—a fantasy.

The Great Gatsby is on general release now 

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Reviews
Tue 21 May 2013, 19:16 BST
Issue No. 2354
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