MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By Warner Brother's Pictures
Directed by Baz Luhrmann. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire.
Just about everybody I know had to read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby at least once in school (I read it twice in school and once again in a reading group a few years ago). All things considered, it has much in its pages that still appeals to thoughtful young readers (and, surprisingly, has aged less than The Catcher in the Rye). Nick Carraway (Maguire), the narrator and protagonist, is a young man working at his first job and living on modest means who finds himself caught up in the fast-paced, loose-living world of the Jazz Age. His neighbor is Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio), a rich man with a mysterious background, who throws big parties and is smitten with Nick’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) who happens to be married to a cad (Joel Edgerton) with a few secrets himself.
Because Nick remains an observer of the banality of evil without succumbing to it, Fitzgerald gives the readers the distance necessary to both participate in the fun without falling over the cliff. And – let’s be honest – the book is fairly short, which was my favorite length of all when I had required reading to do.
Australian director Baz Luhrmann has made the fifth version of the novel (The first version, a silent picture from 1926, disappeared from view after being publicly disavowed by Zelda Fitzgerald), following a film noir treatment with Alan Ladd in 1949, the Robert Redford – Mia Farrow version in 1974, and a TV movie in 2000) and it mostly succeeds. Gatsby is first and foremost a gloriously written book and filmmakers have struggled to keep most of the language intact. Luhrmann has created a wraparound framing story that allows much of the original novel to be used as voiceover narration that, while obviously clunky, helps the film to honor its literary pedigree.
Luhrmann is a director known for creating lavish entertainments (Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet, and Australia) and he pulls out all the stops here. Everything is supersized and over-the-top, including a first hour of non-stop parties and swooping 3D cameras, accompanied by hip music by current popular artists (including Jay-Z, Pink, Lana Del Ray and Fergie).
But the film is well cast and well acted, and is the best version of Gatsby so far. Its simple story is a cautionary tale about how our sins eventually find us out. So what if God shows up only as a pair of giant eyeglasses on a billboard? The eyes of God can convict you of sin, but it’s the grace and love of God through Jesus Christ that saves. The Great Gatsby does a good job with sin; it’s up to us to demonstrate grace.
Three halos: A literary masterpiece is given the Hollywood (okay, via Australia) treatment once again, and honest reflections about moral values are the key plot devices.
Three pitchforks :This is a moral tale, so scenes of immorality are there, including alcoholism, adultery, smoking, and general licentiousness; swearing is rare, since this film is based on a book devoid of cussin’.
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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