Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is a film that is definitely worth seeing if only for the characters and the music that gives the story new life. This version gives humanity to Gatsby and heats up the chemistry and tension between Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom, all while our music propels the action.
Before we even see Gatsby’s face in the film, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) finds him not just staring, but clawing in the darkness for the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. Luhrmann’s Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) is more desperate, less sure of himself, and more emotional than F. Scott Fitzgerald’s careful and reserved Gatsby. He loses control of himself, but this makes him seem more human, more in love, and more dangerous than the Gatsby you get in the book.
He is also more accessible and appealing than say, Robert Redford was in Jack Clayton’s 1974 adaptation. It is easy to fall in love with DiCaprio’s Gatsby and take his side, even though his muddled British/Boston accent is slighting distracting. He is magnetic, vulnerable, and complicated, but Baz Luhrmann makes him so passionately delusional that we see how Daisy’s life with her husband, Tom Buchanan, would be a bit more stable — a feeling hard to muster while reading the book.
We are also partial to Luhrmann’s Tom Buchanan, played by Joel Edgerton, because the film plays up his attractiveness, vitality, and confidence, while playing down his racism and stupidity. It’s easy to see how Daisy can’t detach herself from him despite his rampant infidelity with his mistress Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher) and many other women.
Adding to the fierceness of the love triangle, Carey Mulligan’s cool and perfect Daisy has a playful and palpable chemistry with Leo’s Gatsby which makes them seem like a couple who really know and love each other. And this spark is only emphasized by Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful,” which plays every time they are alone onscreen. Haunting and sad, the song amplifies both their relationship’s history and finality, and it’s just one of the gems on the brilliant soundtrack produced by Jay-Z.
Though many were skeptical, the modern soundtrack actually strengthens the film and its appeal. Hearing Beyonce, Florence + the Machine, The xx playing in the film’s Jazz Age setting only serves to enhance nostalgia and longing for the past, which is after all, what Fitzgerald set out to do when he published this book in 1925. With our music, Baz Luhrmann takes that story that doesn’t belong to our generation, and gives us a version that is entirely ours. Go see our version of The Great Gatsby, you won’t be disappointed.