Friday, 14 June 2013

After Gatsby

I left the cinema. Out of the debauched hyper-reality of Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby film and into the debauched hyper-reality of the shopping centre.

The film moved me. It took me back to my teenage years when I studied The Great Gatsby at high school. It tossed me about as I watched it – into the excesses of Gatsby’s extravagant parties, letting the sound wash over me, enjoying the contrast between the early 20th century scenery and this century’s hip hop heavy bass beats.

In the film, I witnessed the intimacy, the subtle looks of longing, of unspoken understanding between Daisy and Gatsby, and it drew me in. I felt the hopelessness of their relationship. And I felt the overwhelming sense of doom.

Baz himself makes a quick cameo in a modest moustache. The actors each give a solid and convincing performance. I wasn’t watching Leo, Carey and Tobey but rather I was indeed spellbound by Gatsby, Daisy and Nick. I was appalled by the manipulative skill with which those who belonged to the establishment, ‘old money’ defeats the self made man. Just as in a poker game, Gatsby is forced to show his hand. As I watched, my thoughts echoed, ‘Do not show your hand Gatsby, do not give them the satisfaction.’ As much as Gatsby has learned the ways of the rich, trained himself to seamlessly interact in their world, he eventually reveals that he is nothing more than a farm boy, lacking in the social graces which gives old money its power. Gatsby reveals his true feelings and from there, all is lost.

Entering the fluorescent lighting of the shopping centre after the film, my head was full of the messages I had understood from The Great Gatsby. I walked past a couple standing in the walkway with their two kids. ‘So what are we doing?’ the man asked of his partner. ‘I don’t know, having a look around?’ she replied as a question. They looked lost to me and as I opened my eyes to all of the people around me, I felt the futility of what we were all doing there. We were together, but alone, in a shopping centre, looking at things to buy, to entertain us, to fulfill us, give us a moment’s distraction, peace, comfort, joy, elation. The sense that we can have whatever we want, that we can buy our happiness, that by accumulating things, we are in control of our destinies. That we can provide an emotional fulfillment for ourselves and thus be self sufficient. Self made.

But what I really felt was Gatsby’s futility, his failure. And not that he had failed to accumulate enough wealth or status but rather that he had failed to understand that no amount of stuff can fulfill us. If we are nothing to ourselves, then we have nothing. And if we need to accumulate things such as wealth, status, credentials and property in order to please and impress people, then that should be the warning sign that those people will never be able to make you happy. Daisy still stands as the modern archetype for all that is unattainable, the unreachable goal that passes through our fingers like mist.

Like Gatsby’s craving for Daisy, what we crave is to love and be loved in return.  We crave a sense of connection as we want to exist in the minds of those that we love. We want our efforts to be witnessed, acknowledge and appreciated. We want our love to be reciprocated in the way we give it. But this is where Gatsby went wrong. He built his entire life around his love for Daisy, amassing a fortune to ensure that he would be worthy of her. In return, he expected her to love him as he wanted her to. But this too is a futile expectation. You don’t need to do anything but be yourself in order to be loved. No amount of superficial artifice will cause someone to love you. They will love you because you are, well, you. Love is given, it cannot be bought or sold, and though it wasn’t Gatsby’s intention, he put a price on Daisy’s love. He thought that if he worked hard enough that he would win love. But it wasn’t real.

Gatsby wasted his love on people who did not care. As Nick says to Gatsby, ‘They’re a rotten crowd, you’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.’

Sometimes we have to let go of the past and risk the pain of loss in order to find out what real love is. This is why I am moved by Gatsby’s fate. He didn’t let go, he wanted to recreate the past, but the past no longer existed, except in his own mind.

So as I walked through the shopping centre on my way back to my car, I turned my eyes from the merchandise shining at me under bright lights. Back in my car, I sat for a moment to shake off the tragedy that I witnessed in the film, knowing that I would be home soon welcomed by people whom I love and who love me for who I am in return.


  1. Beautifully written, and oh so true! And good to hear there's more to the movie than glitz and bling, you've made me want to go and see it :)

    1. Thanks so much. The film really did blow my mind, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I highly recommend seeing it in 3D, I felt utterly immersed even though I had to wear those silly 3D glasses!