God is watching in “The Great Gatsby”

Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire), a budding financier, rents a flat next door to a mansion owned by the mysterious Jay Gatsby (Leonardo di Caprio) on Long Island during the Jazz Age, 1922 to be exact. Nick’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her husband Tom (Joe Edgerton), live in a mansion across the inlet where a green light flashes at the end of the dock – beckoning or warning?

Gatsby throws extravagant parties that the rich and famous attend uninvited. The only invitation that Jay ever sends is to his neighbor, Nick. Nick’s encounter with Gatsby leads Nick to write later that the man had an “extraordinary gift for hope.” But it is hope built on a grand illusion for Jay is in love with Daisy and now that he has his fortune, real but of suspect origin, Daisy is married to Tom. Gatsby wants Nick to help him win Daisy back.

Director Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel is extravagant and recalls some of the theatrical motifs we saw in his 2001 musical “Moulin Rouge”.  The film haunted me for a couple of days afterwards because Fitzgerald’s vision from the Roaring 20s is a prophecy of the spiritual poverty of American society today brought on by consumerism, the cult of celebrity, and selfishness borne of individualism. Nick is the all-knowing narrator in the film and God is all-seeing. What Luhrmann does well is to show that the connection between Americans grasping for the American dream, is barely there, but God and the voice of conscience persist.

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