The Ghostly Heart

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Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!

Like Clare, I was very uneasy when I heard that Baz Luhrman was directing the newest film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, as I’m not a fan of his adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. I had actually decided to wait and rent it when it came out on DVD, because I didn’t want to waste $10 on a Baz Luhrman film. But Clare urged me to see it after she went to see it in theaters, and I decided that if I was going to continue to bash Luhrman and be bitter about the whole ordeal, I should do it intelligently. I went with my younger brother, Jack, and as the movie progressed, I looked over and realized that we were both leaning forward in our seats, engrossed. When Jack and I left the theater, we were still pretty sucked into the story, and it took us about an hour to formulate all of our thoughts about the movie. But Jack said something as we left the theater that I found really interesting. He said, “I really liked and hated Gatsby at the same time. And I think that’s because he reminded me of myself.”

I’ve been mulling over what my brother said about Gatsby for a week now, and I think I now have some conclusions about why I found that statement so profound. Clare wrote about why Fitzgerald’s story is still relevant today, and I want to focus in on one aspect in her argument—Gatsby himself. Jay Gatsby, although he is a mysterious figure at the beginning of Fitzgerald’s novel, is flesh and blood at the end, a character to whom everyone can relate in some way. I think the easiest way, as an English major, to back this argument up will be through quotations from the novel itself. So here it goes. I’ll let good old F. Scott speak for himself.

“[Gatsby had] an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again… He wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was.” Gatsby has an almost childlike sense of optimism that he has held onto throughout the years, and it makes him seem almost invincible for most of the novel. He burns with this energy and hope that I think we all once had, but it has been chipped away by the world around us over time until our expectations for life become “realistic” and “practical”. Gatsby’s expectations are not realistic, and they are not practical. Instead, he seeks to attain the unattainable.

The unattainable thing that Gatsby seeks to attain is his lost love, Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby pours all of his hope and desire into this dream, and believes that if he can find Daisy again, if he can just get her to love him back, he will be okay. He will be happy and fulfilled. We all think this way in life. If we just get that raise, that grade, lose those five pounds… We will have made it. We’ll be safe, secure, happy. Even after Gatsby is reunited with Daisy, though, he does not feel fulfilled.  “There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams – not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

Gatsby put all of his faith and hope in this young woman, built a huge shrine of a mansion for her while awaiting her arrival. And yet even in their reunion, Daisy tumbles short of his dreams. Gatsby places his hopes and dreams at the feet of a woman who is as flawed as anyone, and the unsteady foundation of his hopes begins to crumble almost immediately. When we get that raise, that grade, lose those five pounds, do we feel safe, secure, or happy? In my experience, this isn’t the case.

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The last lines of the novel have always haunted me. And they are the backbone to the reason that I think Gatsby’s story is universal, as Fitzgerald switches from talking about Gatsby to “we” and “us”.  Like Gatsby, we too seek after things that we believe will fulfill us and make us happy. And often, like Gatsby, we find that these things tumble short of our dreams. And so we run faster, stretch our arms farther, reaching for the next thing. But will those things, once attained, fulfill us?

I have come to the conclusion that I liked Luhrman’s adaptation of Gatsby, because he did a great job of conveying Gatsby’s nature in his film, and even ended the film with those beautifully damning lines above. Will the things we seek fulfill us? That is the question left hanging in the air at the end of this novel, and I think that this is why this book is so haunting, its story so powerful, and its message so relevant today.

The Green Light

ImageDespite his reputation for grandiose films, Baz Luhrmann has never impressed me. All Baz Luhrmann films run the risk of being too much. They are grotesquely opulent, with every detail gilded and every scene overdone to the point where his movies are almost vulgar. I was horrified to discover that this director was taking on the project of adapting one of my all-time favorite books—The Great Gatsby—into a movie, when already several film adaptations of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s magnum opus have failed to do the book justice. I hearken specifically to the Robert Redford version. But I love the book, so I went to see the movie anyway.

I went with low expectations. How could Baz Luhrmann do a story from the Jazz Age without jazz music? Why was Jay-Z doing the soundtrack? The only thing I felt good about was the casting. I won’t lie, I’m biased. Ever since Titanic, I’ve thought Leonardo DiCaprio was fantastic, and Carey Mulligan has proved herself a talented actress. If you haven’t seen her in An Education, you should. I was also prepared to give Tobey Maguire the benefit of the doubt, forgetting his performance in Spider Man 3 because he was amazing in Seabiscuit. And, I thought, maybe Baz Luhrmann’s overly decadent style was perfect for 1920’s New York City. It was at least worth it to see the movie.

I’m going to resist the temptation to analyze every aspect of the movie—things I liked and things I didn’t—and focus on why Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby worked. I thought it worked because Luhrmann’s style and decisions made the story and the themes of Gatsby seem relevant today. Through the contemporary music, skilled acting, and modern cinematography, Luhrmann brought out the main theme of the story—that the American dream is an unattainable illusion in an unstable world—and made it relevant to a modern audience.

I was struck by the scene where Nick goes the apartment in the city that Tom keeps for Myrtle. A small party ensues with Tom, Myrtle, Nick, Myrtle’s sister, and a few other people. The cinematography is shot like a contemporary club scene, with the characters dancing to pop music with an overabundance of sex and alcohol. The music was truly genius. It gave the entire movie a sense of relevancy, particularly the party scenes. While the girls were dressed as flappers, the wild dancing and abundance of alcohol set to Beyonce and Fergie gave the party scenes the same atmosphere that you might find at a club downtown. It felt like a modern party, even if it looked like the 1920s.

There were other elements that made the Gatsby story feel immediate, particularly in Gatsby himself. Leonardo DiCaprio, an experienced heartthrob, easily captured the cool attractiveness of Jay Gatsby, but he infused the character with insecurity and instability along with his sense of hopefulness. Gatsby is an incarnate reminder of the fragility of the American dream—the man who envisioned a great life for himself and ended up shot dead in his pool—both in the 1920s (which resulted in the economic depression of the 30s), and today, where current economic instability continues to haunt the attainability of the American dream.

But economics isn’t the only thing threatening the American dream. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about the disillusionment of the Jazz Age, but today’s post modernism—the cultural movement skeptical of any asserted meaning or definition—has brought on its own disillusionment for our age. Fitzgerald dealt with the rise of modernism following the disaster of the First World War, the cultural movement where meaning became relative to each individual. But today’s generation battles something even more demoralizing—the postmodern concept that there is no meaning, relative or absolute. Jay Gatsby followed the blinking green light, but today’s postmodern generation finds the light completely extinguished.

The Great Gatsby, as written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, captured the disillusionment of a generation after World War I. Baz Luhrmann’s film reminds us that the disillusionment is still there. He uses pop music to make Gatsby’s parties feel like a modern club. His contemporary cinematography added to this effect as Luhrmann shot the party scenes like club scenes are filmed in contemporary films. Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Gatsby was a grim reminder that the American dream is often unrealized, the dreamer (figuratively) shot dead before his dream can come true. All these things gave Luhrmann’s film a feeling of real urgency, the feeling that even if the story is from the 1920s, the message is still relevant today.

About Emily

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Emily standing above the Seine during our trip to Paris.

Emily came into my life like the TARDIS, randomly and out of nowhere. Well, that’s not entirely true. We went to junior high together, though I never really interacted with her. Then, suddenly, the first day of high school, we were in the same small friend group. Over the next two years, we became close friends. She called me ten minutes before a showing of Iron Man was about to start, and we raced to the movie theater together in her mom’s minivan, managing to arrive before the previews ended. I waited with her after she dislocated her knee in the girl’s bathroom at the school gym (it’s a long story). We watched twenty minutes of the movie On A Clear Day before realizing that even Billy Boyd was not worth sitting through a movie that bad.

Then Emily moved to Maryland. After a farewell meal at In N Out, her family drove across the country and she sent me text updates containing pictures of a Batman action figure in each state. Despite the three-hour time difference, the distance only made Emily and me closer as we text almost constantly.  Luckily, for me, I went to college in New York City and we were only a bus ride away from each other for three years. We explored New York, Washington D.C., and even went across the pond to visit London, Oxford, and Paris. So far, we have had some crazy fun times together, and I’ve learned a few things about Emily.

Emily is an adventurer. She loves to do crazy (and sometimes illegal*) things. Emily is part of a wonderful family, consisting of her parents and younger brother. She is a hard worker and a diligent student and graduated from the University of Maryland with the highest honors. Emily is also steadfast friend. And first and foremost, Emily is a storyteller, a gifted storyteller. She is all about the story—characters, plot, themes, style. One of the ways we became such close friends is though writing together, and through our early days of writing (mostly Newsies fan fiction) to Emily’s current original writing endeavors, I have discovered that Emily has a gift with words. When she’s the author of a New York Times best seller, just remember that you heard it here first.

*But not too illegal!

About Clare

Clare at The Last Bookstore in L.A.

Clare at The Last Bookstore in L.A.

Instead of writing about ourselves, which is awkward and tedious, Clare and I decided it would be fun to write introductions for each other. So here it goes!

Clare Louise Moore, at the ripe age of 21, graduated from The King’s College in New York City, where she majored in politics, philosophy, and economics. She is an avid reader, writer, drawer, and pianist. She is a quadruplet and has a younger brother as well, which means she has four crazy and amazing brothers. Clare was born and raised in Santa Barbara, California, where she enjoys biking, playing tennis, and long walks on the beach. Seriously. Clare has always loved books, especially Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and her room from childhood onward became a shrine to all things Tolkien.

Clare and I went to the same junior high, and knew each other a little. The first conversation I remember having with Clare in eighth grade was about the best way to poison a person undetected, and I obviously wanted to get to know her better. I got that chance in ninth grade, when Clare and I became good friends. Seven years later, Clare is the best friend I have ever had. She is the only person I’ve met who also lives and breathes stories. She is scary smart (hence the whole graduating from college a year early thing) and has a gloriously biting sense of humor. She also has an incredible eye for character and plot, and knows a good narrative like the back of her hand.

During her three years on the East Coast, Clare and I explored Washington D.C., New York City, London, Paris, and Oxford together. We have had so many crazy adventures and made so many memories. Now that she is back on the West Coast, we are working together to conquer the nasty three hour time difference through sheer willpower, and keep up with each other through near constant text massaging (thank you, unlimited texting services!).

As much as she loves to read, Clare also loves to create her own stories. I am not at liberty to divulge anything about the plot or characters at this time, but trust me. It is going to be awesome. Like I said, the girl has an eye for stories.