We are introduced to the film with our narrator, Nick Carraway. He takes on a journey into the life of a man named Gatsby, he’s the single most hopeful person Nick has ever met. The story starts at a party in New York City. The year is 1972 when stocks were at their record peaks, the parties were bigger, the shows were broader, there was a ban on alcohol so you could get liquor for cheap if you had a street connection. Nick worked on Wall Street, but he lived in Long Island. He had attended Yale and dreamed for most of his life of being a writer but gave it up. Turns out he lived in a cozy house near the beach next to the Castle owned by Jay Gatsby.
Rumors about Gatsby
Enter Tom Buchannan — a wealthy polo player who has affairs with women in New York City while his beautiful wife, Daisy Buchannan stays home and takes care of their daughter. Daisy is from Louisville, Kentucky and she is Nick’s cousin. Daisy may love Tom but she’s hoping that when her daughter grows up that she won’t be a fool and she’ll learn early on that, “all the bright precious things fade so fast and they don’t come back.”
Nick changes the scene of the story. He now tells us about the Valley of the Ashes, owned by T.J. Eckleburg. There’s a gas station with a gorgeous red head, dressed in red ribbons & polka dots, her name is, Mrs. Myrtle Wilson. She’s the side piece who’s dating Tom Buchannan; they have an apartment together, they’re getting a dog and everything. Wow, whoa, wait what? Yeah, if you’ve seen Daisy you’d be surprised too. How could Tom even think about another woman? Daisy was a bombshell, a straight ten out of ten.
They head over to the apartment to handle some business; that’s code for Tom wanting to get a nice good handle on Myrtle. They’re in the other room having loud, lustful sex while Nick waits in the living room playing with the Scottish Terrier. Tom and Myrtle finish just in time for the neighbors to bombard Nick and barge into the apartment. Here he’s introduced to Jordan Baker, who is so curious about Nick and begins asking him questions. When the neighbors find out that he lives in Long Island, they all start talking about a man named Gatsby. Jordan adds in on it, “I’ve heard he’s the cousin of Keiser Willum,” and then offers Nick cocaine and a drink. Nick declines the coke and happily takes the drink. He’s drinks and drinks until he’s drunk. This has now turned into a party. They’re having fun destroying the apartment, popping champagne, having a pillow fight, etc. Nick steps out on to the balcony and listens to the saxophone across the street. He looks at the building across the road on to everyone’s balconies. He looks down at the side walk and he can see himself completely dressed in a suit. He goes back inside to the madness and passes out. He wakes up in the morning with no idea how he got home, but he admits that he has a strange feeling the Gatsby is watching him.
Every summer, Jay Gatsby would have extravagant parties at his mansion on the weekends. People would drive all the way from the city to attend but the thing was that everyone simply showed up through Gatsby’s door without question, no invitation needed. Yet somehow Nick was literally the only person to receive a formal invitation card. As expected, he attends. Why wouldn’t he, right? It’s a chance for him to meet his new neighbor that he’s heard so much about but has never seen or spoken to himself. He enters the mansion and there’s everything you could ever imagine to have a good ol’ time: gambling, film stars, Broadway directors, heiresses comparing inheritances, etc. It was a party larger than life. For all to attend. Even with all the festivities around him, Nick remains with one thing on his mind and one thing only: where is the hostest with the mostest, Mr. Gatsby? Nick can’t seem to find him and decides to get “roaring drunk” instead:
He runs into Jordan Baker, from NYC. She takes him on a brief detour into the mansion and in to a library where Nick finds out that he’s not the only one determined to find Gatsby. The others in the room are sharing their thoughts, all circulating their own rumors and tales about Gatsby, debating between if Gatsby is a German spy, Keiser assassin, richer than God, an international prince, etc. The rumors roar into a conspiracy theory that the mansion they’re in is a façade and that everything in it is an elaborate disguise. Nick doesn’t believe the hype and leaves the room. He looks down on the party from the top of the stairs by the pool area. This is where he finally meets the mysterious Mr. Gatsby:
There’s something about the essence of Gatsby that immediately makes you realize why he’s so great; somewhere between his hopeful smile and his compassion. He is a great guy to be around. He invites Nick out for a ride on his hydroplane, as he excuses himself with Jordan. Nick stays until the end of the party. He’s getting ready to leave when he finally sees Jordan again but she’s in a rush out the door. She shouts at him from the car, “I heard the most amazing thing just now, I swore I wouldn’t tell – let’s have tea next week! Call me! I’m in the phone book!”
The Love of Daisy
Nick had went up in the hydroplane, attended 2 more parties, and used the beach but still knew nothing about Gatsby. Then one day, Gatsby drives up on Nick’s property in a supercharged yellow sports car and invites him out to lunch. On the car ride, Gatsby asks Nick, “What’s your opinion of me? I don’t want you to get the wrong impression of me with all you must be hearing.”
Gatsby shared his back story with Nick. Listening on it anyone would think that Gatsby was so fantastical and when you thought he couldn’t be more, he became a war hero on top of it all. But, the reason they’re going to lunch is not to discuss Gatsby’s life, but rather for Gatsby to build a rapport with Nick in order to ask him for a favor. Gatsby says to him, “Ms. Baker will explain everything at tea today, nothing underhanded.” The events that unfold just go to prove — anything could happen, even Gatsby. Nick and Gatsby attend an underground Burlesque club and bar — there’s gambling, boxing, jazz, etc., everything a guy could want and more. Nick meets a few of Gatsby’s friends, including a gentleman named Wolfsheim. Nick makes his way through the room and runs into Tom during the show. Tom awkwardly introduces himself to Gatsby, as to not to be rude. Do they have history though? Tom makes his introduction seem rushed as if he already knows Gatsby and doesn’t care to know him but yet he has to remain cordial in public and not show his distaste.
Tea with Ms. Baker further reveals Gatsby’s history. Five years ago, Daisy was in love with Gatsby and one day Gatsby was sent off to war. Daisy waited for him. But he couldn’t return. A year later, Tom Buchannan crept in and swept her away. He bought her a string of pearls worth $350,000. On the day of their wedding, Daisy received a letter from Gatsby that made her mind change about marrying Tom. She was so hysterical that she broke the pearl necklace Tom gave her. But the day continued and Daisy married Tom. This is how we find out that it’s no coincidence that Gatsby’s mansion is across the bay from her and why his parties are thrown every weekend. He’s hoping to reunite with Daisy.
Nick agrees to doing a favor for Gatsby. He has the landscape beautified for Daisy’s visit and arrives at Nick’s house with food, pastries, flowers, etc. They wait for Daisy’s arrival. It’s raining something awful and as the time is ticking, Gatsby grows more and more anxious and nervous:
After reuniting with Daisy, Gatsby gives her a tour of his mansion. They make freshly squeezed orange juice, go out for a boat ride, dance in the ballroom, and throw around clothing for fun. The whole weekend has flown by as if it were only a few minutes. They’re having so much fun, until it sinks in to Daisy that what she’s doing is wrong. Gatsby throws the last shirt at her and she sits down on the bed, sad and upset. He immediately walks down the stairs to the bed and rushes to comfort her, asking what’s wrong. Daisy admits that she’s sad… Considering everything that we just watch unfold and what we know about their history versus where they’re at now in the film, we as the viewers are slightly saddened as well. We want the best for Daisy and for Gatsby, which should be each other but things have gotten complicated… So, now what? As the last five lost years struggled on Daisy’s lips, all she could manage to explain to Gatsby is, “I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts before.” Gatsby knew he had crossed a line and wasn’t sure if he should keep going. He could feel the green light normally displayed brightly at the end of Daisy’s dock was now covered by mist, both literally when he looked out on the bay and figuratively, with Daisy’s feelings about him. He was concerned that the enchanted items of his had diminished by one. He gives Daisy a book of newspaper clippings, photos, letters, pressed flowers, etc. all about her to show how much he’s been thinking about her.
Daisy is happy to have spent some time alone with Gatsby and can’t keep away from him. She decides to finally attend one of his summer weekend parties with Tom. While Nick is entertaining Tom, she tucks away to have a private conversation with Gatsby. She tells him about how she can’t take it anymore and that she wants to run away with him. Gatsby is insulted and tells her no. He explains to her that he wants to make a respectable woman of her and be married. She argues and leaves.
After the party is over, Nick and Gatsby discuss the conversation he had with Daisy. Nick reminds Gatsby, “You can’t repeat the past,” realizing that Gatsby was not willing to let go of Daisy. Nick narrates, he talked a lot about the past as if he was trying to recover something.
Following their conversation, Daisy starts spending every weekend with Gatsby until the point where she doesn’t even want to go home anymore. She becomes known as “the mysterious woman” in the tabloids and across newspaper headlines. Gatsby feels that she’s ready to move on from her marriage and that now is the time to make an honest woman out of her. This should be good.
The next time they’re all in the room together (Nick, Jordan, Tom & Daisy), Gatsby tries to announce their love but Daisy, afraid of the outcome, cuts him off from his speech and frantically lights a cigarette, clearly stressed. Gatsby comforts her by picking up the lighter she dropped, Tom notices their connection and takes Daisy up on her suggestion that they drive in to town. On the way, Tom stops for gas in the Valley of Ashes, where he learns that his mistress is moving out West with her husband. Now he’s losing his wife and his mistress, a double burn. They get to the hotel room and it’s blazing hot. They have a hotel employee carving out ice for them to keep in the whiskey and put on their necks to keep cool. They’re relaxing for a while, until Tom brings up a few questions for Gatsby related to his time at Oxford University, his taste for pink suits, and his interest in Daisy. The questioning goes on and on, back and forth. It turns into an argument between the two when Gatsby reveals Daisy’s true feelings on her behalf, which he should’ve have done because she wasn’t ready to have to explain everything to her husband, Tom. She begins to cry.
Earlier in the film, we learned that James Gatsby, grow up a poor farm boy born. He was mentored by Cody, a popular fisher man, who taught him everything about boating. Gatsby had hoped to gain Cody’s inheritance, as he was the only child/potential heir that Cody knew. Gatsby used this as his claim to fame. He hit the front page headlines of newspapers and his millions in new wealth sparked wild rumors about how it was obtained. This story of Gatsby is validated along with the wild rumors, in Tom’s rant about hiring a team of private investigators to find out the truth about Gatsby.
The Authenticity of Gatsby
It turns out that Gatsby is a fraud! It is unveiled through Tom’s investigation that Gatsby is actually a front man for a liquor side gig on Wall Street that’s organized by gangsters, like Wolfsheim. He attained and is maintaining his wealth through hustling and networking with wealthy brokers and other financially invested, business driven individuals. Gatsby tries to shrug off Tom’s revelation by saying that they both have the same amount of money and that they’re equal. Tom disagrees, stating that Gatsby is not the same. He was born into it and that Gatsby was not. He will never be the same as them, hitting hard at his upbringing. Gatsby snaps. He grabs Tom, turns him around and with a raised fist is ready to knock him to the ground, but he stops himself. He realizes that he has lost his temper and proven the truth behind Tom’s ill words. He proved to everyone in the room that he is not the same as them. Daisy leaves the room. Gatsby chases after her and they drive off in his yellow car.
Gatsby is driving recklessly across the bridge from the city back to Long Island. He speeds through the Valley of Ashes. Meanwhile, Myrtle and her husband are arguing. He found the pearls that Tom gave to her as a gift. Myrtle runs down the stairs and out of the house into the street. Gatsby is racing down the road when another car comes down the road. The other car swerves out of the way. Gatsby hits Myrtle with his yellow sports car, stops for two seconds to look back and then drives off.
Gatsby meets up with Nick in the middle of the night. They talk about the car accident and death that occurred… Nick is frustrated and upset. He’s wondering what is Gatsby’s excuse for hitting and running? Gatsby admits that he didn’t do it. Daisy did it. She was so afraid that she just drove off.
Gatsby comes clean to Nick, sharing with him the truth about how he joined Wolfsheim in the business and his gift of hope inspired by not being able to be with Daisy. He wrote her a letter about the real reason he couldn’t return from the war, the truth is I’m penniless… yet everything he ever accomplished and did was for her: the mansion, the parties, all of it was to make her happy and feel secure.
The Great Gatsby’s Legacy
Gatsby’s last moments are spent enjoying a swim in the pool with a phone nearby. He was waiting for a call from Daisy while Nick was at work waiting for Gatsby’s call about what Daisy said to him… The phone finally rings but Gatsby never get to answer it… He’s shot in the back by the Valley of Ashes gas station owner, Myrtle’s husband, Mr. Wilson. He then takes his own life. Gatsby’s last words are “Daisy” as he looks across the lake at her house and falls back, splashing into the water. The rest of the day is spent with police officers and tabloid reporters. The headlines were disastrous; they pin everything on Gatsby, writing “Bootlegger kills Mistress” “Hit and Run” “Gatsby Guilty of Murder” – but, none of it was true… A few days pass and Nick calls the Buchannan’s home. It looks like they’re moving away. Nick is disgusted by them saying, “they were careless people, Tom and Daisy. They smashed up things and people and then retreated back in to their money and their vast carelessness.”
No one attended his funeral, wrote or sent flowers. Nick was the only one who stayed, the only one who cared. “After Gatby’s death, New York was haunted for me. That city. My once golden shimmering mirage, now made me sick. On my last night in New York, I returned to that huge incoherent house once more. Wolfsheim’s associates had cleaned it out. I remembered how we had all come to Gatsby’s and guessed at his corruption, while he stood before us concealing an incorruptible dream…” He continues down memory lane and down on the docks, he thinks of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He talks about Gatsby’s gift of hope and what it means for himself and others who knew Gatsby, “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.”
Takeaways from the Film
The original book was published in 1925 by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It became an American silent drama film in 1926 and was directed by Herbert Brenon. This version that I reviewed was released in 2013, directed by Baz Luhrmann and produced by Catherine Martin. It has a modern sound track with a wonderful mix of vintage sounds like jazz and disco. The scenery was phenomenal. Everything was vintage but in a futuristic way. It was perfectly timed for the era being portrayed. This is one of the many reasons people resonate with this film and enjoy it so much, along with the fact that it’s a tale of love, hope and humble beginnings.
We see Gatsby lose the love of his life because he was broke and wanted her to wait for him to get his life together so they could have the best. He spent years building millions of dollars in wealth so he could be worthy of his true love and give her the world. He wanted her to have everything and to be happy. He never wanted her to have to worry or be sad or be upset. He wanted her to enjoy life and love it. He did everything for her. He was hopeful that one day they would be together again and as that day approached, he began doing things that made her fold into herself. She was losing sight of her marriage, her daughter, her own life because she was living in the past, living in the hope that she once had that was now gone.
This film is not about how no matter what you do, you’ll never be good enough. It’s quite the opposite. In the end, Gatsby died and the tabloids ripped him a part to the point where no one attended his funeral, wrote or sent flowers. Not even Daisy. Gatsby was a symbol of hope, that all your dreams could come true, that living in the past was a thing of the future because it meant living in the present and enjoying every moment while it’s happening. He gave people hope, happiness and showed them the green light to keep pressing forward with great force and courage.