Carey Mulligan as Daisy in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby

Carey Mulligan as Daisy in Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby”

Nov 17, 2010

And so the anointing of Carey Mulligan continues with the choice role of Daisy in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fiztgerald’s great American novel “The Great Gatsby”

 Carey Mulligan as Daisy in Baz Luhrmanns The Great Gatsby

Clearly Mulligan has the look of a blue blood American princess circa 1922, and might well be able to project the doomed melancholy of that era—the very same doomed melancholy that is echoed in our own times. The choice of Mulligan for Daisy Buchanan is a testament to the inertia surrounding the actress since her big break in “An Education.” She apparently beat out the likes of Keira Knightley, Blake Lively, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson and Amanda Seyfried.

And while Leonardo DiCaprio seems a great choice for Jay Gatsby and Tobey Maguire’s vacant face seems voyeuristic enough to be Nick Carraway, none of this takes away from the fact that Baz Luhrmann is directing “The Great Gatsby.”

Fitzgerald’s storytelling is layered and nuanced in all the ways Luhrmann is not, who counts Italian Opera as a major influence on his work. There is no subtlety in Luhrmann: it is all bombastic artifice—electric spectacle and tableau. It would be like Joel Schumacher (“Batman and Robin,” “Phantom of the Opera”), a former window dresser, directing an adaptation of a William Faulkner novel. Imagine Schumacher trying to make something out of “The Sound & The Fury” or “Absalom Absalom.” Can you imagine Schumacher conjuring the following Faulkner sentence?

“The broken flower drooped over Ben’s fist and his eyes were empty and blue and serene again as cornice and façade flowed smoothly once more from left to right, post and tree, window and doorway and signboard each in its ordered place.”

Sure, the costumes and set design will look great in Luhrmann’s “Great Gatsby,” but the psychological detail, the nuance of Fitzgerald’s novel will be gone—the sublime melancholy infused in all Fitzgerald’s stories lost in the neon haze and static of Luhrmann’s visuals.  Imagine Luhrmann trying to effect the brilliance of Fitzgerald’s internal monolgoue in this excerpt:

“Already it was deep summer on roadhouse roofs and in front of wayside garages, where new red gas-pumps sat out in pools of light, and when I reached my estate at West Egg I ran the car under its shed and sat for awhile on an an abandoned grass roller in the yard.  The wind had blown off, leaving a loud, bright night, with wings beating in the trees and a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the frogs full of life.  The silhouette of a moving cat wavered across the moonlight, and turning my head to watch it, I saw that I was not alone–fifty feet away a figure had emerged from the shadow from my neighbor’s mansion and was standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars.  Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested that it was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens.”

That is the dazzling crackle and fade of Fitzgerald’s prose–a prose that renders a feeling, a sensation that is as silent as the private mind unblemished by sensory overload.  Perhaps the actors can save the adaptation if the script is there, but the script will be at least co-written by Luhrmann himself and probably some of his past co-writers. None of this bodes well for the film, and no amount of Carey Mulligan as Daisy will be able to rescue the film from Luhrmann’s aesthetic overload.

Why didn’t DiCaprio bring Martin Scorsese on board?  Especially considering the director’s success on HBO‘s “Boardwalk Empire,” which is a beautiful approximation of virtually the same time period.

Maybe Luhrmann will transcend his style—sublimate it for the sake of Fitzgerald’s singular brilliance.

Good luck.

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