As a long-time lover of The Great Gatsby, I made sure to purchase movie tickets for my entire family in anticipation of the big opening. I kind of love Baz Lurman, too, which is ideal. An iconic story, retold by the master of spectacle himself. Pass the popcorn and smack my bottom!
I thought the movie was great, and my family enjoyed it, too. We were struck by how well-cast it was, and I had to laugh at my mom’s constant interjections throughout the film. Her inability to properly whisper conveyed many a “he’s so hott!” and “ugh, what a cutie” several times throughout– in reference, of course, to Mr. DiCaprio. It was hilarious and entertaining to hear Mom have such a great time.
Of course, the over-analyzer that I am, I couldn’t help but contemplate Faulkner’s initial message and theme over and over again. The power and evils of materialism, capitalism, wealth, and greed. These themes were prevalent in the 1920′s, when he originally wrote the book. But they are so relevant today as well. I know that we have not escaped the constant torments of chasing America’s version of the Red Dragon, supreme wealth and success.
Gatsby is caught up in the need to attain wealth for, perhaps, a worthy cause. He’s chasing the dream girl, hoping to win her heart with his ability to attain whatever impresses her. It’s terribly romantic to imagine that a man is so driven by his heart’s desire to accomplish huge feats. It’s also terribly depressing. Because we all sympathize with Gatsby instead of seeing him for who he is– just as much a fool as his love, Daisy. He chases a woman only for her beauty and some long-lost connection they had years earlier. Sure, he was in love, but he didn’t fall for a woman of wisdom or virtue. She was hot. And he was enamored with her.
Being driven by love is commendable. But, isn’t the wealth and the spectacle required to make Daisy love him back incredibly depressing? Where, then, is Gatsby’s sense of virtue if he cannot see through her shallow demeanor? And what lesson does this teach us, today?
When I moved away from New York, I left feeling confused by the wealth I’d seen there and the race people make towards it. Many of my friends were, too, impressed by labels and parties and big houses and the things wealth can bring.
New Yorkers know how to sound politically correct about wanting money. We say: “Money doesn’t bring happiness. It brings security. It removes certain fears and anxieties, and that’s why it’s worth chasing.” But that’s some interesting kind of bullshit, isn’t it? None of us are really safe from anything. Money can only buy so much. And cancer will get you no matter how much you’ve got. We have Steve Jobbs to thank for teaching us that one.
I wanted to get away from NYC because, while I couldn’t quite name or even fully identify my need to escape materialism, I was undeniably discomforted by the life I’d lived there. Something just didn’t feel right, and I needed to live somewhere where I did feel right.
How does that bring us back to Gatsby? He was the only guy our narrator, Nick, could truly respect. Because Gatsby seemed to have some kind of virtue. The money didn’t mean anything to him because his life was really about getting to his love. But I can’t get my head around the truth. Gatsby is chasing a woman who would always be impressed by wealth, so even if he got her, he would still need to maintain his wealth and surround himself in it. So, does that make him virtuous? Does surrounding yourself by wealth somehow disrupt your moral compass? I don’t know. I don’t know the answer.
But if someone else does, I encourage you to share!by