Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Amy Tomasso: The greatness of The Great Gatsby


                I absolutely loved Baz Luhrmann’s recent film The Great Gatsby.  Although it didn’t receive stellar reviews and was cited as being gaudy, ostentatious, and shallow, I found it captivating and magical.  Maybe I fell for the showiness—the elaborate costumes, scenery and accents set to life by the booming modern soundtrack.  But what I think drew me into the film the most was its depiction of 1920s New York City.

                New York was colorful, radiant, and wild through Luhrmann’s directorial eyes.  It was a place of crazy parties, zooming cars, and high-flying people.  It was hard not to become engrossed in the vibrancy of a city that was literally on fire with the overwhelming energy and life of the roaring 20s, and I think this depiction was one of Luhrmann’s fortes.  He firmly grounded the plot in a physical place—Manhattan—which becomes just as much a character in the story as Gatsby himself. 

                Yet what makes this portrayal believable is that, underneath the pomp, New York City harbors secrets and problems.  It wears its humanity on its jazz-playing, fringe-wearing sleeve.  Ultimately, the New York of the film is about the people who inhabit it, something which should be true of any city.  Without their messy interwoven stories, the city becomes a dull and empty façade, and Luhrmann transforms this skeleton into a celebration of urbanization itself. 

                New York City, as depicted in The Great Gatsby, shines in all its diversity.  One scene stands out in particular: after the downtown party Nick Carraway attends with Tom Buchanan, he stumbles out onto the apartment flat’s balcony.  Despite his haziness, he surveys the surrounding buildings and the camera pans into various windows showing city dwellers busy at work and play, each person occupying his or her individual world.  It is the combination of all these stories woven together, as Nick points out, that make up the patterns and interactions of the city.  As the camera slowly zooms out, the windows fade into a resplendent city skyline ablaze with twinkling lights—is there anything more humanly beautiful than that?   



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