The Great Gatsby: is it a story of love and lost or inevitable self-destruction?

By now everyone’s probably heard of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, said to  be the magnum opus of a master storyteller, based very much on his own life, which some might say was defined by a compelling need to be a success, in order to win the woman of his dreams. Made for the sixth time into a movie, this adaptation stars none other than Hollywood heavyweight Leonardo DiCaprio, himself too, like Fitzgerald, of humble origins, once a long time ago.

I think it’s instinctive for those of the middle and lower classes to cheer for the underdog, even when that underdog assumes alpha status and thus, The Great Gatsby has that timeless appeal of poor boy – Gatsby – made good; his subsequent quest for what I’d call “social validation” by the rich whose ranks he’d managed to  scheme and maneuver his way into is what the more aspirational among us can relate to. Most men I’ve observed, like to imagine themselves as him. Women like to imagine that a young, handsome fellow such as Gatsby would set out to conquer the financial world, only to sleep alone on a bed of fine Egyptian Cotton a good 5 years just for them.

Perhaps I’m too cynical for a tragic love story such as this, but I watched it 3 times, the first 2 times with Amanda and the last with HRH, to make sense of the melancholy I felt after the first time watching it. And as a writer, I was keen to see how Fitzgerald had drawn from his own life because, as we acknowledge in the business, the best told stories are the ones we know most intimately. Furthermore, I was told by an old friend that a cousin of mine (on my father’s side, estranged due to family politics) worked on the special effects for The Great Gatsby and since she’d raved about his work in the past, going so far as to send links to me with it, I decided that even if not for the sake storyline analysis, I had to see the great talent she was determined to show me.

The story is set in the 1920s, an era characterised by superficial strictures on morality and underlying excess and decadence. In it we have Gatsby, the protagonist, Daisy, his married love-interest, Tom, her blue-blooded husband, Myrtle, his mistress and Nick, Daisy’s cousin, narrator of this timeless tale. Summarily, Nick is forever scarred by enabling Gatsby’s relentless pursuit of Daisy, whose flakiness combined with duplicity, eventually costs Gatsby his life.

The story is timeless even in the year 2013 because we all still want to get ahead – now perhaps more than ever – and we all still fall in love with impossible people in ever more impossible situations. It calls to mind a poem I once studied doing English Literature in secondary school about whether it is better to love in hell than to suffer in heaven. Personally, I’m partial to the latter, but you’ve probably figured out by now I’m not the most romantic person around. I did however, so like how Gatsby woo-ed Daisy.

The third reason why The Great Gatsby is timeless is because even in the year 2013, mid November at that, men are still expected to make a go of themselves before committing to a woman. Now, definitely more than ever, with the steep price of housing and spiralling cost of living, peer pressure to live a lifestyle commensurate with one’s social standing, that’s proving to be even more impossible than finding someone suitable to fall in love with. Alpha men may settle for Beta and Gamma women – in fact, most rather prefer it that way – but women, all the way from Alpha to Epsilon want to marry Alpha men. But such is life; we struggle and strive for our 5 minutes in the sun.

At the end of my viewing with Amanda, she remarked, “It’s NOT really worth falling in love with such a person (like Daisy), is it?”

I said, “Why do you say so?”

“She didn’t even send Gatsby a flower when he died.”

“That’s why you’ve to be careful who you fall in love with. There are worse things than not receiving flowers when you’re dead.” In my mind I was thinking, things like people disappearing for donkey years and expecting you to still be in love with them. I fancy that Gatsby was not so much “the most hopeful person” that Nick ever came across or is likely to come across again in his life, but the most unrealistic one: Gatsby “felt wedded to Daisy” even though Daisy was, for all the time that he was away, wedded to someone else.

Watching the movie with HRH, I was taken aback to see he had tears in his eyes. Usually, with his inviolable sense of right and wrong (as opposed to my flexible one) he sides with the chuck-holds; after all, one most relates to the character closest to one’s self. Husbands relate to other husbands, wives to other wives. But with Tom being a compulsive cheat and born-privileged racist one to boot, HRH couldn’t help but side with Gatsby, who, when you think about it, is the very definition of a home-wrecker.

HRH exclaimed, “But what pure love he has! To love only the one person.”

I contend that Gatsby was in love with an image he had of himself  and Daisy just happened to be a means by which to manifest it.

Afterwards HRH had me find on youtube “Young and Beautiful”, the haunting theme song from The Great Gatsby by Lana Del Ray. You can click the video below to have a listen.

Having said all this, the movie is a well-crafted adaptation of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece through which we can all study human motivation and character, the intricacies of relationships and the consequences of choice. Here is the trailer if you’ve yet to catch it. And like the song accompanying the official trailer, I do agree that “Love is Blindness.”