May 20, 2013


(And please see comments so you will know I'm not condoning adultery in any way.)

The latest film rendering of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” is done by the great Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge!, Australia), master of the spectacle. (I will never understand why more filmmakers don’t make the cameras, lights, colors and sound hum like Luhrmann.) I had never read the novel and didn’t even know the plot, so the whole thing hit me for the first time with full impact.

Luhrmann’s highly stylized, always-in-smooth-motion, CGI settings are perfect for the world of Jay Gatsby, (Leonardo DiCaprio) the man with the “perfect imagination.” If you don’t know the plot, the way the story is going to shape up is not evident from the beginning. The film gets off to a slow, almost uninteresting, hokey start with lots of voice-over from Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who is actually narrating from the story he wrote about Gatsby’s life. So the film is really all a flashback, returning occasionally to Nick’s writing of the story. At first I thought, “Oh-oh, somebody was lazy adapting the novel to the screen and is doing sloppy blah blah blah while concentrating only on visuals,” but after a bit, the film hits its stride and all is well.

There is a huge build-up to Gatsby before we ever see him, something like “Hud,” only much longer, but not too long. We hear early on that he is a man of tremendous hope, and so we are hooked, because we like hope, we need hope.

“Gatsby” is not a frothy, roaring 20’s, “bright young things” romp. And the aspects of it that are are only there for a contrast to deeper issues, deeper matters, matter of the hearts, matters of character and goodness. You cannot even begin to imagine how characters will develop, how things will change at the end. Every time you think you know how things will turn out (masterful secrets, suspenses, tensions, reveals, twists, lies, drama, events) you don’t, so it’s best to just give up and watch.

Gatsby seems to be a bit of a God figure, actually. He gives lavishly, he is always watching, he loves extravagantly, he is infinitely mysterious, “but he seemed to understand me.” After talking to Gatsby, a woman declares: “It ALL makes sense!” “If there is NO GATSBY, what is all this FOR?” Gatsby’s CLOSENESS to everyone. “Son of God.” But he is also a deeply flawed figure with shady business dealings, and not beyond adultery. Can a flawed figure be a God-figure in a film? I think so—in their unflawed parts. Man is always greater than his sin. Gatsby IS a man of hope, and love, too. Great hope and great love. The way he loves Daisy (Carey Mulligan—does any other actress have more expressive eyes?) is a bracing statement about the total way a man completely in love with a woman loves her—from the moment he stops and makes a decision to fall in love with her (knowing that his mind would no longer be free to “roam like the mind of God”). This is the real Theology of the Body piece here. He loves her, does everything for her, wants to protect her and take care of her, but he does not force her. He does not want her to be his prisoner.

At a certain point I was wondering if this film adaptation and the narration were just too semi-philosophical for Americans in parts. (I love this stuff, but I’m a weirdo.) Nobody stirred in my theater. Yay. I think they WELCOMED the differentness of “Gatsby.”

This film is terribly transcendent. At the end, my packed cinema full of very diverse moviegoers was utterly lost in a contemplative silence. Fitzgerald’s literary poetry kind of towers above any screenplay we hear today. I think it mesmerized them.

So much of Gatsby’s life was dreams and illusion, but much of it was realized, also. Like every life. And love? Well, we are all heading toward endless Love.

“Gatsby” is totally a man’s story. A man’s love story. Also a sort of buddy story. Fitzgerald plays peek-a-boo with God in this story. God is here and there. Is He benign? It’s hard to tell exactly, but man is definitely His image, and males in a particular way in this film make things happen, are in charge, know their own greatness, steer their own courses. Gatsby has a sense of unlimitedness within him that he explicitly recognizes as being like God. And a woman—in the end—is the most worthy object of all his affections, desires, time, planning and attention. Everything is for her. He has “prepared a place for her.” Nothing else matters but her. One can’t help thinking of God wooing us. God’s extravagant gestures towards us. How do we respond?


--Hard review to write without spoilers!

--God saves all OUR letters and mementos. And He keeps ALL the crayon drawings of our lives on His big refrigerator in heaven.

--I love how Gatsby was nervous like a little boy waiting to see Daisy again.

--This is SO Luhrmann’s movie. He owns it.

--The vibe feels 20’s. Good job.

--Fitzgerald is in love with words. Me too.

--Nick writes because his doctor told him to.

--Great high AND intimate drama.

--“He looked at her like every woman wants to be looked at.”

--“He knew that falling in love would change him forever.”

--“I felt married to her.”

--“She just needs more time.”

--“Gatsby knew that he could climb, but only alone.”

--I don’t know that I understand what Fitzgerald is trying to say about “the past.”

--There is so much depth and symbolism everywhere in this story: NYC, the house, the water, the invitation, the elusiveness of Gatsby, the separation of classes and races, the big eye-doctor eyeglasses, Gatsby’s mansion itself, the parties, who was TRULY corrupted by money?

--Blessed John Paul II. THE GREAT.

--Nick begins the story with a quote from his father. This deferring to the father is rather rare today. For me, it situates the whole story in the presence of God the Father, a kind of fatherly God.

--The flashing green light through the fog. What a beautiful symbol.

--Luhrmann always expertly mixes his period pieces with modern music, and scenes always threaten to bust out into a music video. Hip-hop in the 20’s? Word. Totally works.

--I lost the significance of the tooth.

--The DiCaprio problem. I am not a big fan of his acting. And he will still look like a little boy when he’s 80, I’m sure. But he has the right handsomeness for this era, and he puts in a good performance. Sometimes I can see him thinking. Sometimes he seemed to stumble on his lines. But this might be perfect for the hopeful, ever-youthful Gatsby. Might.

--Carey Mulligan is great, but (Aussie!!) Joel Edgerton (who plays Daisy’s hubby, Tom) is the best actor in this film. Outstanding. Tobey Maguire, is his usual, lackluster, mumbly self. Sorry, I just don’t think he’s an actor. But he plays a good beige narrator/observer, which is needed for “Gatsby,” methinks.

--“Old sport.”

--Marvelous soundtrack.

--Do men like this film? If so, why/why not?

--I know nothing about Fitzgerald, but I’m thinking of his Irishness: mindful of the poor and social injustice. Wrestling with God.

--Shades of “Citizen Kane”? Yes.

--Will WE wait for God?

--A good man is hard to find. But when found, he is the most beautiful thing in Creation. Men think it’s us women, but I think it’s them, and I think I’m right because of Jesus.

--BIG, FAT SPOILER COMING UP! CLOSE YOUR EYES! Daisy was not worthy of Gatsby's love. (This was an incredibly delayed reveal, because at first we thought she was! Great storytelling.) Just like us. We are not worthy of God's excessive, heat-seeking-missile-locked-on-us love. We are callous and shallow. We prefer trinkets.

--"Rolling Stone's" Peter Travers REALLY did not like this film!


  1. Anonymous11:57 PM

    Sister, while I am grateful for your good work here, you should really reconsider this review. This baldy misses the mark, and thereby does a disservice to both Catholic theology and Fitzgerald's story.

  2. Hey, Anonymous, a little explanation of why you think so might bring about intelligent conversation on the point.
    I've not seen the film. I've only read the book. My son who's a junior in high school read the book and then went to see the movie with his class. He enjoyed both very much.
    Sister Helena, I sometimes think that you are making a stretch to see Theology of the Body in some of the movies you review, but it makes me take a second look. I have issues with calling adultery "love" tho I'm sure that those involved in it feel that they are in love. I am looking forward to seeing the movie based on my son's recommendation and of the reviews I've read.


  3. Just to be clear, I'm not calling adultery love or condoning it under any circumstances. Any flaws/sins on Gatsby's part cannot be a model or Godlike. However, if we look at his unflawed characteristics, I think we CAN see the depths of God's unrequited love for us. Even before committing adultery, Gatsby's love was the same for Daisy.

    And I don't think I'm stretching here. I don't try to stretch to find some inkling of good or redeemability in a film. It has to be there in abundance. I call a spade a spade and trash films whenever I feel it necessary. I don't like trashing films, but I don't hesitate, either. Now I HAVE to read the book!

  4. Anonymous7:41 AM

    F. Scott is buried at St. Mary's RC Church in Rockville, I used to do the Baltimore Poe visitor thing, get drunk and visit his grave but that Romantic Period of my life was brought to a speedy end by reality. Fun while it lasted.

    1. Ha ha! The Poe thing! If I'm ever in Rockville, I'll have to visit (both graves)!

  5. In book and movie, Gatsby says "of course you can get back the past." That was a fatal flaw of his. An always looking behind or looking forward and never what he had NOW. It was significant for the era of the Lost Generation. They had seen trench warfare and could never go back and reclaim the kind of "innocence" they had before. And the book finished with man's eternally striving for some distant point in the future, which we will never achieve--"then I'll be happy, then I'll be wealthy, then everything will be perfect." That moment will never arrive, at least not in this lifetime.

    And you're right, Daisy wasn't good enough for Gatsby. But Gatsby asked too much of her. It was his pushing her to say she never loved her husband that sealed the nail in the coffin of their relationship.

  6. Great points, especially your last point! Shows Gatsby's ultimate living in unreality....

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