The Great Gatsby is a faithful adaptation of one of America’s legendary literary works by F. Scott Fitzgerald, taking place in the prosperous 1920’s era. Staggering wealth, towering stock markets, and the grand lifestyle resembled the American Dream that was bound to end with the imminent stock market crash.
But in the meantime, the ambitious James Gatz made a name out of himself, building a reputation and owning a luxurious mansion just on the edge of West Egg, Long Island. To the public, he became known as Jay Gatsby (Leo DiCaprio). However, his stature is shrouded in mystery, as speculation arose as to how he acquired such an abundance of wealth. Rumors spread like rapid fire: he once killed a man...he was a spy...a war hero... But no one truly knew or understood the man, until Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moved in next door in a forgotten gardener's shack to pursue a career in Wall Street selling bonds, unaccustomed to the bustling vigor of New York.
As a self-made millionaire, Gatsby represents "new money" with his over-the-top "circus" parties and eclectic palace design, while the Buchanan's from East Egg represent "old money," residing in colonial type homes and displaying an immense boredom with their lavish lives. Gatsby's tragic flaw is his resolute belief that it is indeed possible to "repeat the past," resulting in his inevitable demise. In addition, Gatsby's tragic flaw is falling in love with Daisy (Carrey Mulligan), who at the same time built him and destroyed him. After claiming that they would run away together and start over, Daisy is callous enough to retreat back to her wealth and accept no responsibility for the damage she has inflicted. Daisy's puzzling remark, "I hope she'll be a fool - that's the best thing a girl could be in this world, a beautiful little fool," conveys the affluent, shallow life she herself lives with Tom (Joel Edgerton) and wishes for her daughter.
Throughout the first thirty minutes, Gatsby is only revealed through partial action, his hands pushing the curtains aside or offering a drink with his iconic ring always visible. I love the moment when Nick finally sees the party's host with his own eyes for the first time and how he describes Gatsby's rare smile "with a quality of eternal reassurance" that "understood you just as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself." After extensive shots of the wild parties and crazed celebrations, Gatsby is singled out in this spectacular shot and the audio is muted as Nick is fully absorbed in his observation of this revered figure who gives him a smile that "you may come across four or five times in life."
Baz Luhrmann detailed direction brings the same energetic and hectic atmosphere that he created in Moulin Rouge to the extravagant parties of The Great Gatsby. The vast parties are well choreographed, immersing the audience in the scene, and the grand cinematography illustrates the magnificence of the period. In addition, he did an excellent job of portraying the eyes of TJ Eckelburg watching over the Valley of Ashes and the tragedy that transpires the night Daisy takes the wheel of the Duesenberg and implicates Gatsby in a hit-and-run.
The green light across the bay represents the ideal future that eludes Gatsby as if receding before him, as he "beats on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." He tries to fight the "current," pursuing a future with Daisy, but is held back by his desire to recreate the past.