Film and the American Dream

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The Great Gatsby and The American Dream

   Tony Montana might have had a copy of The Great Gatsby on the boat over from Cuba. This classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, on which the 2013 film is based, features the same simplification of the male American Dream. Through years of hard work, Jay Gatsby reinvents himself into America’s version of a living god — a fabulously rich man — all in the hopes that it will earn him the love of Daisy Buchanan.

    He too believes in the money = power = women formula, but at least to Gatsby, his actions are done in pursuit of love. Then again, it’s Gatsby’s misunderstanding of love that is the source of his tragedy. He has loved Daisy from afar for so long that he doesn’t understand how to translate those emotions to the real world. Daisy, on the other hand, is thoroughly practical, and refuses to toss away her profitable but unhappy marriage for a chance at chasing a dream.

    Essentially, the way Gatsby sees Daisy is the same way that viewers see the concept of the American Dream. It is a forever distant paradise that both Gatsby and viewers believe they can steadily climb towards. Yet that pursuit is ultimately a flawed one, Gatsby chooses not to enjoy his current life in the hopes that it will earn him a fantastical one. The first detail you learn about Gatsby is really the only one you need to know: he’s a millionaire who throws parties he himself does not attend.

    Baz Luhrmann’s film was a little under appreciated. He is often criticized as a “style over substance” filmmaker, but that’s why adaptation is a good ground for him. Fitzgerald provides the substance allowing Luhrmann to imprint his signature flair on to it. It’s a compelling period piece that captures the opulence of the era with a soundtrack that cleverly keeps it relevant for modern audiences.