It was a complete time capsule into the ’20s: The Great Gatsby (2013) at the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace (ok so it opened in 1935, but close enough). And of course what completed the spectacle was the first few moments of the film naming all the locations around Sydney and how they looked from the Sydney Ferries as they went whizzing by (the Valley of Ashes? Yeah, ride the bus by that all the time – minus the oppressed steel workers).
As for the film: it felt very Baz, and yet not Baz at his tightest. It has been interesting to see how his work is more popular in the US than in Australia, try to ask any Australian what they thought of Australia (2008). But who knows, maybe the delayed release time clues us into trouble behind the scenes? Nonetheless, the spectacle was entertaining.
As someone who had somehow made it out of high school without reading The Great Gatsby (I was too tangled up in The River Why…why?), it was a mysterious ride. I found that while being enchanted by the dazzling sets, costumes and glamor, I had a hard time handing my feelings over to the dramatically affected Gatsby. Why should I care about the 1st world problems of literature’s biggest playboy? Because he loved the girl he spent some quality time with five years earlier? Maybe it has to do with the fact that the green light glows on as the characters race about in their cars, which take their directions from the very same color (though the filmmakers didn’t necessarily go there with their interpretation so never -mind).
I wasn’t sold.
Forgive me if I’m simply adding to the high school conversation several years too late but it didn’t hit me until having sushi with my friend Kimberly after the film. It struck me, after exploring the eyes that saw all from the billboard, that the thing Gatsby strove for was never Daisy at all. So far so good. I graduated from high school I promise.
But suddenly, and with little help from Baz I think, I was Gatsby. The green light? That thing on the horizon that grows never nearer. Like F Scott’s ships in the current. Cool, high school diploma means something.
And Daisy? Everything that ends up between me and that green light. Everything I mistake for that green light. So maybe the story is yet another retelling of how our expectations, once fulfilled, only disappoint. Is there anything to that green light? Or is it simply the chase we’re after?
The documentary I’ve been making for the past several months explores not only how the pursuit of this green light, and what we believe it to be, shapes us, but also that the actions and practices we engage in, form our expectations of what that light is. And if we choose to take it on, we ask, “this thing that I’m striving for: is it a ‘Daisy’? or is it that green light?”
And in the end of the film Gatsby discovers that which the narrator has already made clear to us: in putting Daisy on the same trajectory as the green light he destroyed her.
So maybe Dr. Steven Garber is on to something when he asks, “Do you have a telos that is sufficient to meaningfully orient your praxis over the course of your life?”
What’s the green light? Do you have a strong enough answer to that question?
And if you’ve got an answer, does your every action move towards or farther from that green light?