Big B in the Great G

Big B, Tobey, and Leo

I admit it.  I went to see the Great Gatsby.  And only because the Big B himself, Amitabh Bachchan, is in it for the length of one memorable scene.  I waited through half the movie to see him grace the screen with Leo and Tobey, and it was definitely worth the price of admission.  Despite rampant criticism, I enjoyed the entire overblown spectacle of Baz Luhrmann's film.

As Mr. Wolfsheim

It's still not clear why Bachchan was cast as Mr. Wolfsheim, an uneducated Jewish gangster.   Caricatured in an overtly racist manner in the novel as a "character around New York-- a denizen of Broadway" who fixed the 1919 World Series (73) and can't keep basic vocabulary straight, there's not a great deal of connection between the book's character and a formerly angry young Bollywood star.  Perhaps Luhrmann was gambling on the Indian audience, figuring that if he put Big B in the movie at least a billion folks in the subcontinent would want to see the movie.

Big B, What Happened To Your Tux?

The real draw, though, has been reading about the Hollywood hoopla on Bachchan's blog.  I am nursing a mild addiction to Bachchan's overblown prose; I'm certain the Big B is actually writing it, because who else could get away with posting comments like: "That is a resolve, a determined mission, a destination evaluated to be achieved. One that shall incentivate all energies in getting to it at all cost. And when achieving it to not merely dwell on it but to keep working at not just keeping it alive but enhancing it, each moment ; the insecurity of the past perpetually haunting our present !!"?  But it's positively escapist to follow Bachchan as he traipses about Cannes, New York, and London for the Gatsby openings, dropping pictures of himself and Abhishek with occasional references to the "wee one." 

Wait, What?

Gatsby the movie is as full of champagne and fireworks and fast cars and glitsy fashion as the book; even in 2D it's positively unreal.  Gatsby and Daisy get a more romantic treatment on film than they do on paper; Carey Mulligan creates a real character behind the "indiscreet voice" that's full of money (120).  Perhaps that's because her daughter never shows up on screen and Gatsby's father never enters the film, leaving them less encumbered by the realities of family.  And despite Leo's annoying "old sport" refrain, he does an admirable job capturing the facade that is Gatsby (and it's all facade).

The Romantically Unencumbered Couple

I went back and read the book, because I didn't remember it being nearly as interesting or as scandalous when I read it in high school (actually, I have no memory of it from high school at all.  Blame it on that horrible American literature class).  It was a nice touch to put Carraway writing away in a sanatorium in the film, and the English major in me was touched by the typeset words floating across the screen.  The film stayed quite true to the book, feeling almost theatrically metaphorical.  But the novel, after the movie, felt flat.  The confrontation in the Plaza Hotel was more real on screen.  My only major quibble with the film is the nixing of the romance between Carraway and Jordan.  Is Jezebel right that Carraway is really gay?  Or is it just too difficult to get that almost-non-relationship into the movie?  The novel's not really that long.

Luhrmann's film does the book proud.  All flash and no substance, just as the novel intended.  The American Dream has passed the 99% behind, and those glittering 1%?  "They're a rotten crowd," according to Carraway, in both the film and the book.  But they're an entertaining 1% to watch.  Is Gatsby the Great American Novel?  It's certainly about the delusion of the Great American Dream, and the psychological longing for all that glitters perfectly in the night.  "I though of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock.  He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.  He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city" (180).  That is the only reason to watch the film, really.  To see the spectacle of the almost-American-Dream, and to pat yourself on the back that you don't run with those crazy creatures once the theatre lights come up.