The Great Gatsby

Dominika reviews the film everyone is talking about.

DominikaDominika Ferenz

With two young girls at home, going to the cinema is a rare occurrence these days (it’s almost always easier to stay in and watch a DVD). But I decided to make the effort to have a night out to see The Great Gatsby at the cinema, having enjoyed reading the book in my early 20s. I loved Lurhmann’s Romeo and Juliet and had high hopes that he would create something original and exciting.

Based on a classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby follows Nick Carraway’s (Tobey Maguire) account of his encounter with the mysterious and charismatic millionaire, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) when he moves in next door.

He soon becomes entangled in Gatsby’s plan to reignite an old affair with Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) now married to Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). At the core, The Great Gatsby is a love story between Gatsby and Daisy, but also a comment on the illusionary nature of the ‘American dream’ in an era of material prosperity and excess.

Gatsby_timeline_party Lurhmann’s version of The Great Gatsby is a mélange of fast cuts, digital effects, music, swooping cameras, lights and glitter. Luhrmann is at his best shooting the spectacular and his portrayal of the roaring 1920s filled with new money, fast cars and decadent parties, is a visual feast that nobody else could match. The costumes, co-designed by Catherine Martin and Miuccia Prada, are simply gorgeous. What also works is the contemporary replacing of the jazz music of the times with the hip-hop sounds of Jay-Z and Kanye West.

Yet, although the script itself (co-written with Craig Pearce) remains faithful to the novel, the richly nuanced and layered book has not been translated well into film. Lurhmann’s direction has turned a complex book into a melodramatic tale – amplifying the tragic elements of the love story between Gatsby and Daisy and glossing over other key themes of the book. Gatsby’s charming and mysterious persona is undermined by Lurhmann’s direction – despite his best efforts, and his performance is good, DiCaprio’s character veers from silky and sophisticated to downright cartoonish.

Gatsby_timeline_eyesMy other disappointment is the treatment of Daisy. Once again, I felt that Lurhmann’s direction was misplaced – Fitzgerald’s Daisy was flighty, whimsical and superficial, making a relationship with her seem unlikely, and in turn, making Gatsby’s self delusion even deeper. The movie version of Daisy seems more emotionally stable but indecisive and certainly not at all cynical. Lurhmann’s close-ups of her soulful eyes gazing at Gatsby and his focus on the love story, gives the audience impression that she really did indeed care for him. I do feel for Daisy, caught between the needs and desires of two very powerful men, she had little chance to assert herself. We do not really know what Daisy felt or wanted – she remains an idealized phantom without her own voice. This makes her almost as much a victim of this tragedy as Gatsby.

I wanted to be transported to an intelligent and seductive vision of the 1920s, with the promise of stunning cinematography, great music, beautiful costumes and memorable performances. But instead, what was meant to be shallow in the book was given depth, and the deeper themes of the novel were treated lightly in the movie, lost in the spectacle and the melodrama.

Dominika Ferenz – Moving Pictures
Dominika is a filmmaker, photographer and mother of two girls. She studied film and photography at UTS, completing a Bachelor of Communications (Honours). She now spends her time chasing the perfect shot or her girls and often both at the same time. You can see her photographs and films on her blog or check out her company, ikonfilm at
Life Balance = Laughter. Yoga. Solitude.