Monday, May 27, 2013

No "F" in Gatsby

I'd read the book and although the writing was great, concluded that the story wasn't. It lacked a reason to exist--a tragic story with a depressing ending.

But perhaps for subliminal reasons, Sandra and I took in the movie, looking for some redemption in the story that I'd missed upon reading, or some such thing.

By the end as the credits rolled I thought. "Eh." I was initially unimpressed. But as the following 24 hours ticked by I found myself thinking about it more and more.

The reason I was not a fan of the story when I'd read it, was that it had no hero, no great triumph, little if nothing redeeming about it. And to my mind, if a story has no redemption in it, well then why write it, ol' sport? But in the wake of the movie I was finding some.

Gatsby is movie (book) about lying, excessive partying, adultery and poor moral choices. To be clear, sexual promiscuity, intense conflict and poor character are at the heart of this story. But get this: no nudity and nary a four letter word exist in this film. And yet, the power and intensity of this story are not declawed for lack of bared breast and F-bomb. The plot moves strongly forward without either. Great storytelling requires a great script and great acting more than lady parts and words to be bleeped later. How refreshing. And redeeming.

I was leery of the music going into this. It was clear that contemporary music would be used for this period jazz age film. (Hmmm. Concern.) But the soundtrack was fabulous. It fit so well I barely noticed the contemporary nature of it. It elevated the scenes and helped the story move forward like any great soundtrack should. Jack White's remake of U2's Love is Blindness, was a standout moment. The whole soundtrack, impressive.

Stories pull you in and get you to root for someone; it's what they do. And like the book, I was left with no one to root for. Tom cheats on Daisy. Gatsby wants Daisy. Do I really root for Gatsby to take another man's wife? No. Do I root for the cheating Tom to win Daisy to stay with him? Difficult. I must not ignore my moral compass and sense of right and wrong just because I'm watching a movie. So I'm left in the seats and not pulled into the screen: no one to root for.

I think the most redeeming thing about Gatsby is that on all counts, it's a story of what not to do.

Tom: Don't cheat on your wife. Love her, you idiot.
Nick: Don't go along with bad ideas. A good friend cares enough to say on the outset, "This is a bad idea, Jay."
Gatsby: Ol' sport, one's identity built upon temporal things will always lead to a crash.
All: Honor your commitments--love your spouse. Be honest. Choose integrity. All things in moderation.

On each of those points we can insert our own name and thereby find redemption in this story.

The acting, storytelling and production of this movie are all very strong. It's a creative telling of an old story that stays true enough to the original text. It's definitely worth seeing. Just be careful of who and what you root for.