Thoughts on The Great Gatsby (2013 Film)

Contains spoilers.

 

This won’t be a full review, due to my lack of concentration at some parts as a result of it being my first 3D film and also the fact that I haven’t read the original 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, nor seen any of the other film versions, which I feel I’d need to experience before making a full assessment of the film.  I walked in blind, as it were.  It’s directed by Baz Luhrmann, who I’m told is a skilled director, and has previously directed Romeo + Juliet and Australia, neither of which I’d seen but had heard a lot about.

To me, the most thought-provoking aspects of the film is its themes within the historical setting.  Set during the Roaring Twenties, a period of unparalleled economic growth within the USA following the First World War (and preceding the inevitable collapse of the system in the 1929 Wall Street Crash), this was the period of jazz, of unenforceable prohibition and of corruption.  The film certainly glorifies the nightlife scene of New York in 1922, showing a seemingly endless sequence of parties, pleasure, alcohol and chaos.  It’s certainly atmospheric, but my main reaction was thankfulness that I never lived during this period!  The film encapsulates the changing moral landscape of the time, which is also expressed through the romantic relationships characters form.  Gatsby, Daisy and Thomas all participate in extramarital affairs, while Nick and Jordan’s fling begins in an alcohol-fueled party.  The film is no advocate of the sanctity of marriage, and it’s fascinating to see society’s change portrayed so successfully.  The importance of money within the film also stood out to me – scenes are littered with references to the gap between the wealthy and the poor.  Indeed, the crux of the film lies around the idea that Gatsby did not feel worthy of Daisy’s love until he had made something of his life.  It’s difficult to say whether the book’s message was for or against this individualist, ‘dog-eat-dog’ culture; the novel would really need to be read  to say for sure.

A result of many of these themes is that I personally found it difficult to relate to many of the characters.  I struggle to understand the forces which drive the characters in their greed and their lusts.  Why does Gatsby see such an importance in money?  The parties, the affairs… I had the same problem with Othello, leaving me wondering whether it’s flaws in the writing or flaws in me.

There are many comparisons to be made between the period the film is set and the society of today.  Economically, the excesses of the 20s bear a lot in common with the economic book experienced in the early 2000s, only to be shattered by a financial meltdown in a similar way.  The same values of individual profit, private enterprise and the ‘American dream’ still dominate today, despite having been proven fundamentally flawed again and again when unregulated.  Ultimately, it’s Gatsby’s need to attain individual economic success – which he achieves through the illegal distribution of alcohol – that proves to be his downfall and prevents him from experiencing a happy ending.

Despite my feelings towards the characters, I can’t deny they are well written and acted.  Hearing the lyrical lines many were given made me want to read the novel, even if the eventual plot and themes had the opposite effect.  I was surprised by how likeable a character Gatsby proved to be; I imagined he would be a flawed, irredeemable character, but I was mistaken.  The character is possibly even portrayed as too virtuous.  He’s brilliantly acted by Leonardo DiCaprio, who always impresses me with his diversity.  I also enjoyed Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, the story’s narrator – the only character I personally believed to be realistic.   Daisy is well acted by Carey Mulligan, although her role in the story rather annoyed me.  She is viewed as an object, as a prize, by the men who compete over her.  Never is this clearer than in the confrontational scene, where they both cry variations of: “She is mine!” “she loves me!”  That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, except she is there with them and says nothing.  She cries a bit, then wanders off, then is all, “oh, don’t make me choose.”  But essentially, it’s a confrontation between Gatsby and Tom over Daisy, in which she has no input.  I appreciate these were the values of the society at the time, but it still irritates me.

It was an interesting decision, in setting up the period, to use modern music.  In the soundtrack can be found names including Beyoncé, Florence + The Machine, Lana Del Rey and André 3000 (presumably a rapping robot – or sounds like one at any rate), all of whom are generally in the charts right now.  The obvious decision would have been to go for 20s jazz music to set the period but, oddly, modern pop music kind of works.  It establishes that this is a period of partying and excess, ideas that most pop music today push forward.  I don’t like the music, but it works.

Finally, I was quite impressed by the levels of detail and symbolism present in the film.  Little touches, like that optician billboard symbolosing the ‘Eyes of God’, judging characters and disapproving of their lifestyles, or the green light across the bay acting as a source of hope for Gatsby, make me realise how The Great Gatsby became a literary classic.

Overall, I have conflicting feelings over The Great Gatsby.  I kind of liked it and disliked it at the same time.  Visually, it’s beautifully directed by Luhrmann, but I’m unsure of how I feel about the central concepts of the story.

Final rating (if forced): 7/10

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The Immorality of Lottery Tickets

The idea of lotteries really, really annoy me.  They’re the biggest con in modern history, as well as a highly negative reflection on the human race.  Let me explain – I’ll concentrate on the UK’s ‘National Lottery.’

Firstly, the Lottery shows how we as a society, or perhaps as a species, are obsessed with money.  Every week millions of people in the UK spend money on a lottery ticket.  Tickets cost £1, so over a lifetime someone could easily spend thousands of pounds on lottery tickets.  The chances of simply winning this back once is about 1/80,000 and the chances of winning a jackpot are 1/14,000,000.  Some people will buy more than one ticket a week.  So millions of people are, effectively, throwing thousands of pounds away in their lifetimes for no gain, no investment, no returns.  They know this yet they continue anyway.

This has the more sinister side effect of, very gradually, concentrating wealth.  The lottery is, when simplified, a system which literally takes money from the majority and gives it to the minority.  A very, very small number of people become millionaires at the expense of a gradual attrition of the rest of the country’s money.  It’s the perfect system.  People pay into it, or should I say are conned into it, by the hope of winning a fortune.  It’s a caricature of pure capitalism, only without the shame.

This wealth leads to power because, in our society, money = power.  It’s not as much of a problem in the UK as it would be in, say, the USA, but money still gives someone massive influence.  Not in the form of corruption – I would hope – but in other, more subtle methods, such as in investments or trusts.  I don’t claim to know a lot about how rich people use their money, and I hope I never will, but the fact rich people are powerful cannot be denied.  Giving an average, random person this much power – or any unelected person for that matter – is deeply irresponsible as a society.

Now I know there are good sides to the Lottery.  A significant amount of profits are taxed by the government, which can then (in theory) be used on services in the welfare state, or on infrastructure, or any other investment which helps the people of our country as a whole.  In addition, huge fortunes which are left unclaimed regularly end up being donated to charity, which will be a massive benefit in this Age of Austerity to struggling causes.  However, having positive points does not stop the Lottery being the immoral con that it is.