The Great Gatsby (2013) Directed By Baz Luhrmann - Movie Review
The Great Gatsby (2013) Directed by: Baz Luhrmann Writers Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce (screenplay), F. Scott Fitzgerald (based on the novel by) Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joel Edgerton, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Elizabeth Debicki Runtime: 142 min Rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language
Listen here for audio of radio interviews about films from a Christian perspective with Pastors Ted Giese and Todd Wilken on IssuesEtc.org where Christianity meets culture. (This review includes some spoilers)
Justice and the Omniscient Eye of God: Love is Blindness?
“The best [Christian] fiction is always written by the worst [Christians]. Not the saints in all their virtue—and especially not the heretics, who are willing to undo the whole of Christianity if only their vices can be redefined as secret virtues—but the sinners in all their sin are the ones who are able to create a genuine story.” F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of these, and The Great Gatsby contains Christian themes regardless of how much Fitzgerald wishes to get away from them, and because Baz Luhrmann has produced a film that is faithful to Fitzgerald’s text it too contains the same Christian themes. Perhaps the dominant Christian theme in The Great Gatsby is one of Divine Omniscience and justice in the face of moral decay. This theme is embodied in the giant billboard of the failed optometrist Dr. Eckleburg which stands watch over the sordid and tragic lives of the characters of this story; Luhrmann has successfully incorporated the unblinking eyes of Dr. Eckleburg into his film adaptation of the novel.
The billboard’s watching eyes see through every secret, they discern hope and villainy, lies and truth in every character. They stand watch over the ashen cross roads between the extravagantly appointed homes of the rich and the bright electric lights of New York City. This ashen valley is full of the poor people who by their daily toil make the electric lights of the Jazz Age burn bright; it’s also the home of George and Myrtle Wilson, working class people, caught up in the lives of the films central characters. It’s important to note that Fitzgerald’s view of God, as portrayed by the “persistent stare” of Doctor Eckleburg’s billboard, is a cynical view at best. His growing antagonism toward his faith informs his writing and Fitzgerald on the surface presents this set of All-Seeing-Eyes as either unable to act or dispassionate to the human suffering before them. In the film this is more ambiguously presented, and Luhrmann utilizes this image of the billboard as witness to the unfolding events at key and pivotal points in the film.
For all his scepticism about the existence of God, Fitzgerald wrote a story that deals with morality and justice that reaches past the material into the territory of the metaphysical: While on the surface the eyes that watch ‘seem’ unable to act, someone, somehow, and in some way still has to pay the price for sin. Again, because the director is so faithful to the text of the book these ideas are present in the film.
Of all the characters Carraway most consistently puts the best construction on things, particularly on Gatsby. At one point, after some of the film's major plot points have unfolded, Carraway encourages Gatsby saying, "You're better than the lot of them." The film goer will of course know that this is not technically the case. Gatsby is just as guilty as the rest of the film's characters, his moral fibre is just as weak, yet Carraway feels obliged to defend Gatsby. Is Carraway wilfully turning a blind eye to Gatsby? Will the Omniscient eyes of Doctor Eckleburg’s billboard see the truth? In the end it is the viewer that is provided the full view of Gatsby. The Christian viewer may well consider that if Gatsby was more like king David from the Scriptures he’d have the added benefit of being righteous, but Gatsby isn’t righteous: His faith is not in God. Carraway says at the conclusion of the film that “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning - So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Jay Gatsby is a character intent on solving his own problems and uses others to that end, he desperately wants to relive the past, to “repeat the past,” only repeat it perfectly on his own terms. The drama in the film exists between Gatsby’s desire to do this and his ability to do it.
Rev. Ted Giese is associate pastor at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Regina, Saskatchewan. Follow Pastor Giese on Twitter @RevTedGiese. Check out our Movie Review Index!
“Gatsby's Epitaph: F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Jody Bottum, Catholic Dossier 5 no. 4 (July-August 1999).
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Arcturus 2013, pg 35-36.
Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, Concordia Publishing House 2005, pg 13. “Eighth Commandment: You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we do not tell lies about our neighbour, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.”
1 Peter 3:18 “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”
The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald, pg 184.