When I saw Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby in theaters a couple months ago, I could not turn off my thoughts, so I wanted to get them down. Hope you don’t mind me sharing, even though this post is several weeks late.
The Great Gatsby was a dazzling, glittering, shimmering, over-the-top, luxurious movie. The result of all Gatsby’s parties, the end result of all New York’s glamourous noise, was cacophony. I’d like to think this was intentional. The loud, raucous parties served to get you so drunk on alcohol and excitement and experience, and to keep you that way so that you could make it through the week, thinking that the whole point of whatever you were doing 9-5 was to make it to the weekend. It’s still a common theme. But Gatsby raises a question. What is it all for? For the title character, it was all an attempt to make an attractive life to the woman he loved, who married someone else in his absence abroad.
Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway said that Gatsby was a man defined by hope. Gatsby lived in hope and died in hope, and Nick saw that as a great virtue. But Gatsby’s hope was unsatisfied. It’s been eight years since I read the book, though I plan to read through it again this summer, so fans of the book will have to forgive me here. I don’t recall what details were in the book and what weren’t. What I saw in the movie, however, was Gatsby reaching out toward that green light. As he stood at the end of his dock, arm outstretched toward the blinking green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, there was still a bay between them. The narrator Carraway called it Gatsby’s incorruptible dream. But what is a dream if it goes unrealized? For Gatsby, he continued to hope until the end. But for Nick, who saw that his hope was in vain, what becomes of him? What becomes of the audience?
After all the uproar of the movie, the movie ended silently, and I have never been in a quieter auditorium. The audience seemed to be holding their breath, or else it had been taken from them. The story ends on what seems to be a truth, of hope and longing, of a dream that will keep you going. But to me the ending was more of a wide, gaping question, because longing, or Sehnsucht, is a feeling I’m familiar with. It’s not an answer. It’s closely related to joy, which I’ve written on before. And it’s not the end. Joy is fleeting. Wistfulness, nostalgia, longing, and that happy longing that is joy, these emotions remind us that we’re not satisfied. These are what we feel when what we want so badly is on the other side of a gaping bay or chasm.
There was no resolution to the story. Gatsby’s hope was not a sure hope; he never grasped it. I hope it led the audience to examine their lives and their desperate hopes. I hope they left wanting to be different than Gatsby. I hope they left wanting a hope that’s not in vain.