Thursday, June 14, 2012

The beautiful and tragic past, recreated

"I wouldn’t ask too much of her," I ventured. "You can’t repeat the past."

"Can’t repeat the past?" he cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!"

He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.

Book to film review: The Great Gatsby, 1974

The 1974 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, brings the novel's sense of living in a colorful time on the edge to life. We're treated to scenes of wild opulent parties, and a lifestyle that many of us can only imagine. But this lifestyle was hallow and desperate. Fitzgerald had said in a letter describing New York in 1926, "The restlessness … approached hysteria. The parties were bigger…. The pace was faster … the shows were broader, the buildings were higher, the morals were looser, and the liquor was cheaper; but all these benefits did not really minister to much delight. Young people wore out early—they were hard and languid at twenty-one…. Most of my friends drank too much—the more they were in tune to the times the more they drank…. The city was bloated, glutted, stupid with cake and circuses...."

Redford is intense as the cool and romantic Jay Gatsby while Mia Farrrow plays Daisy as a beautiful, lost, and ultimately shallow rich girl. The scenes of the Gold Coast of 1920s Long Island are beautiful, while the scenes of Queens are creepy. I was intrigued by the characters' east-west motion in the book and the film reinforced that visual for me -- that of going from one beautiful place to another (Long Island to New York City) but having to pass through a wasteland to make this journey. Ultimately, though, all of these places are empty and there is always something sinister lurking -- in spite of what it might look like on the outside. It is all a wasteland, sometimes a beautiful wasteland, but still a wasteland. Daisy herself represents this dichotomy. She is beautiful, but she is a fool; a beautiful little fool. She looks gorgeous and rich, and seems to promise fun, luxury, and love, but ultimately she is a prize not worth having.

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