MOVIE THOUGHTS: The Great Gatsby (or “A Fundamental Misunderstanding of Hope and Love”)

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It’s probably not good that I am proud of myself for having ONLY a week and a half between this post and the last one. Mental Note: Aim HIGHER, Rach!

Since I started at the end of the last movie, this time I am going to start at the …TITLE! (I’m going to cheat a little because Luhrman closes the movie with a shot about the title.) The Great Gatsby. The operative word here is “great” and it poses the central question of the book and movie: Is Gatsby actually “Great”?

Luhrman seems to be convinced that he is. So, my favorite starting point: after Nick finished typing the last iconic line of the book on his proto-hipster typewriter, he flips all his papers back to the title page which says only


GATSBY.

Above this he writes in painfully sincere handwritten script: “The Great”.
Again, Luhrman gives us his moral judgement on the movie and the characters: GATSBY IS GREAT, GUYS!

The problem is that he’s not. Not that I’m saying any of the other characters are either:

Cast

Daisy is a beautiful and weak-willed fool, who becomes a beautiful and weak-willed adulteress, and finally a beautiful and weak-willed murderess. Tom is a “cruel bodied” philandering, racist misogynist. Jordan is a bored liar. Myrtle is a tramp. Wilson is a dupe then a murderer. Wolfsheim is a gangster. The party goers are users attempting to anesthetize themselves to life. Nick is the guy who prides himself on reserving judgment on people, yet narrates one of the most snidely judgmental books of all time. BUT their frailties do not make Gatsby great by comparison! This is the point that Luhrman seems to miss in his rush to help us sympathize with the DiCaprio character (just like in R and J!)

The funny difference here is that DiCaprio has become a better and a smarter actor – he plays Gatsby exactly as Fitzgerald wrote him: Charismatic. Attractive. False, and in that falseness- subtly, but profoundly unsettling. I should give Luhrman some credit. The screen play he uses is rigidly accurate to the characters’ dialogue from the novel. Even the scenes are picture perfect.The problems come in his additions to narration of Nick Carraway. Henceforth I will distinguish Luhrman’s narrator as Narrator Nick!

NARRATOR NICK!

NARRATOR NICK!

Narrator Nick!, after seeing Gatsby hide the truth of Daisy’s crime, casts Gastby’s life in the following light: He loved Daisy so much that he imagined and hoped the perfect world into existence for her. “Gatsby was a Son of God and as such must be about his father’s business.” Narrator Nick seems to view this business of world-making by imagination and power of will. Gatsby, coming from from nothing, through his colossal HOPE creates the perfect world. The fact that Gatsby (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER!) dies alone is mostly because Daisy and Tom suck a whole bunch. Gatsby is Great because he is the Patron Saint of and Martyr to HOPE! 

It's alarming how charming he feels!!!

It’s alarming how charming he feels!!!

If that were true, then we could really take the title “The Great Gatsby” un-ironically. He never let the world, or reality, or Daisy’s rejection get him down. He hoped eternally. Isn’t that great?

angry-no

The problem is that hope is not real hope which denies reality.

I offer this alternate interpretation of Gatsby’s life: He is a man who creates the Platonic ideal of who he should be at the age of 17 and never allows it to change. He manipulates, lies, and steals in order to bring it all to pass. He does not participate in or take over God’s work in world making. Rather, (here I finish the Fitzgerald fragment that I think Luhrman based his interpretation of the novel on) “Gatsby is a son of God and as such must be about his Father’s business – the service of a vast and meretricious beauty.”

Definition of MERETRICIOUS 1: of or relating to a prostitute. 2: tawdrily and falsely attractive Sound FAMILIAR?

Definition of MERETRICIOUS
1: of or relating to a prostitute.
2: tawdrily and falsely attractive
Sound FAMILIAR?

Put bluntly: Gatsby creates a falsely perfect world – an attractive whore of a world, which he props up and protects by never allowing the invasion of anything real. He cannot bear the threat posed by any part of the world that does not fall into his delusion because reality and its attendants – Alteration, Change, and Growth – all must stand as enemies of Gatsby’s world. Gatsby is not a patron saint of Hope because there is no need for hope in a complete world. It is done. Finished. Perfect. Not for one moment does Gatsby allow himself to truly dwell in the dirty, changing, imperfect, beautiful world of reality.  

This brings us to Daisy.

Daisy

(AGAIN, I must congratulate DiCaprio again on the scene I am about to describe because it is beautiful … and frightening.) After Daisy and Gatsby’s whirlwind rekindled romance, Gatsby begins to pressure Daisy to leave Tom, her husband,  but not just to leave Tom: to leave him, saying that she loves Gatsby, has always loved only Gatsby, and has never loved Tom.  When she is unable to do so, he flies at her – wide-eyed, shaking her, shouting – and tries to force the words from her.

Whose charming now?

Who’s charming now?

He cannot, and she abandons him and his world. Even then, he does not see this or her. He is utterly convinced that she is his and only his. 

This is not hope. This is delusion. This is closing his eyes to the real woman in front of him in favor of the Imaginary Daisy who would never have married Tom. Real love is seeing another person rightly and willing and hoping for the best for them. Gatsby does not love Daisy because he cannot see her.

Notice that he DOES NOT EVEN LOOK AT HER.

Notice that he DOES NOT EVEN LOOK AT HER.

Somewhere along the line, his service to and protection of “the vast and meretricious beauty” he has imagined has superseded any love he has for the real, weak, frail, fallible, beautiful woman he avowedly seeks. As such, he cannot hope for her. He cannot will the best for her because that would be to admit that his creation is not the best.

I would argue that Fitzgerald understood this. He leaves Nick’s trustworthiness as a judge of character and sincerity as a narrator enough in question that we must watch Gatsby’s actions. In DiCaprio’s performance, we are still afforded that opportunity to see through Gatsby’s charm to the 17-year-old boy who refused to grow up. Gatsby is “Great” only in his own imagination, which he refuses to leave.

The problem with Luhrman’s interpretation, built on the additions he has made to Narrator Nick! proclaiming Gatsby’s greatness as rooted in  love and hope, is that he once again undervalues the heroism of real love and real hope by using those words to describe paltry imitations. 

 

So, to counter balance him, I will leave you with a man who understood the true nature of Love as seeing rightly (flaws and dignity, frailties and beauties) and Hope as ceaselessly working to carry the beloved to the BEST world and love’s completion.

SONNET 116
By William Shakespeare.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

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About rachelandreesa

We are two people. One is Rachel. The other is me, Teresa. Rachel didn't want to write the introductory material so you're stuck with what I come up with. Hahah! We both just graduated from the University of Dallas with a degree (Two, actually!) in English. We rocked at it. Both us. Respectively. In totally and completely different ways. Okay moving on. Rachel is blonde. I am not. Rachel has brown eyes (hazel eyes she says. Do you want to write this Rachel?!?). Okay we'll post a picture forget the rest. In conclusion, there is no good reason for us to start a blog, and there is even less reason for us to do one together, besides a joint tendency to interpret life in a literary fashion... TO A RIDICULOUS DEGREE. IT'S RIDICULOUS. Furthermore and finally, there are rules for reading our blog. It's a game. The game starts now. You have to score one thousand points. If you do that, you take home a tank with a big gun. Each day we will announce the scores from that loudspeaker. The one who has the fewest points will have to wear a sign that says "Jackass" on his back. There are three ways to lose points. One, turning into a big crybaby. Two, telling us you want to see your mommy. Three, saying you're hungry and want something to eat. FORGET IT!

7 responses »

  1. Um, amazing post.

    And p. s. why didn’t you write it while I was still in school and could have showed it to my Gatsby-enthralled kids??

    Anyway, you were able to articulate what I was vaguely feeling about Gatsby for weeks.

  2. Excellent post! I quite enjoyed the Shakespeare reference at the end.

    I completely agree with your interpretation that Gatsby did not love Daisy the person, but the ideal Daisy of his dreams. My favorite quote from the novel is the following: “There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion.”

    Yet isn’t it human nature to idealize the object of our love? Shakespeare said that “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.” While our friends point out the faults of our lover, we are blind to those faults and see only what we wish to see.

    So please don’t be so cruel with your criticism of poor Gatsby. I believe that his love was real, and not a “paltry imitation.” Of course, great literature is open to countless interpretations. I could be wrong.

    Keep up the great posts 🙂

    • I’m so glad that you enjoyed it and thank you so much for your comment! I love getting to have conversations (of sorts) about these things, and I will definitely be checking out your blog!

      To address your comment: while I agree it is absolutely a human tendency to idealize and even idolize a beloved, I am hesitant to think of that as either an inevitability or as the ideal state of things. Rather, I think that is a disordering of real love.

      Human nature, I would agree, is to love and desire the ideal and the perfect. We are built to do so. This is why early mothers and early lovers are generally alike in their conviction that their child or beloved is ACTUALLY the most perfect person who has ever lived. Yet, when that desire for perfect, eternal, unfailing love is fixed PERMANENTLY on a flawed, mortal, changeable person, (I don’t just mean to pick at Daisy! I think those terms can and do describe all human beings to some degree.) it cannot end well. That absolute certainty that Gatsby and the more extravagantly romantic of lovers desire cannot be satisfied, unless it is by someone who is actually perfect. If he ever bothers to see her, Daisy is doomed to disappoint him or to become a more terrible person because he does not see her descent. Think of the same mother of my example: she would not be a good mother if she held onto her conviction that her son was perfect both because he would have the burden of being a perpetual disappointment, or because she would never be able to help him stop… lying or stealing, or hitting other kids… or whatever. The same, I feel, is true of lovers. They can fail to love well in precisely the same way.

      Honestly, it would be a sad thing believe that staying in love, we must persist in blindness to their faults. I would say that loving well (whether romantically or otherwise) means seeing simultaneously and in absolute completeness, BOTH the inherent dignity and lovableness of the beloved AND the flaws and struggles that they must seek to overcome. (Not to hold against them by any means! Not with a view to making them into someone else, but because if you really want the best for someone, doesn’t that mean that you hope for them to someday become themselves perfected – no longer plagued by temptations or sins?)

      I agree that in the early stages of romantic love, this completeness of vision is rare and difficult. In fact, I would say that romantic love is blessed with a special stage (not granted to friends) where you at allowed to glimpse the COLOSSAL beauty and lovableness of the beloved. The work of real love is remembering that initial vision, while coming to deeper knowledge of his/her flaws and helping him/her to bear them.

      Gatsby, I would say refuses to do this work because it is easier to ignore Daisy’s frailties than it would be to love her in spite of or even because of them. That is why I call his love a paltry imitation. (Although, to be fair, I think that all human love is an imitation of God’s love, which is the only thing/person who can stand up to the expectation of perfection. All other loves of this kind imitate because they are a recognition and desire for the small spark of that divine lovableness in the other person. I call Gatsby’s imitation “paltry” because I think he is being lazy by resting the burden of anticipated perfection on the shoulders of another mortal person and letting it crush her just as much as Tom crushes her.)

      • Yes, I think that you have shed some additional light on this topic with your statement about human love being an imitation of God’s love. Therein lies the problem and the source of all great tragedies – humanity’s desire to replicate a bit of the eternal world in this transitory world.

  3. Love this post Rachel. It’s exactly the way you explained it to me, but even clearer! And wow, that is an amazing shot of Gatsby sitting with Daisy in his lap. He’s not looking at her… and her eyes are even closed! I would love to hear what you have to say about Daisy’s love for Gatsby…

    xoxo
    Reesa

  4. Pingback: 7 posts in 7 days | rachel & reesa

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