Warning: minor spoilers.
Chesterton talks about the "awful authority of the mob." I think he was onto something. There's a reason why Twilight is so popular to females who are looking for Christ-like love in a man. There's a reason why Rome, Italy, is still the cultural center of transcendence in the western world. And there's a reason why The Great Gatsby is called a great American novel. Sometimes people just know what they are talking about.
The film was exquisite, in every manner and method I can think. The cinematography was stunning, lovingly shot, the costuming and setting well-researched but not stuffy. It could have been so easily outdated, pushing the setting into the first half of last century, beyond our reach, but it was near and intimate. Even the soundtrack, which was a mix of period-era music and artistic interpretations of the themes found throughout the novel, was so well done--and that could have gone down the path of no return, with one slip, one bad choice of artist, one poorly placed song, one wrong note.
The acting was marvelous. My sister and I have a mantra: if Leo is in it, it's good, because he knows how to choose great movies (same with Will Smith, actually): What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Titanic, Shutter Island, The Departed, Inception. . . He successfully took on the character of Gatsby, that enigmatic figure, and made me believe in him in such a way that is so hard to do when reading about him as words on the page--he is just that transient. But DiCaprio got him, from the over-fake snobby accent to the dangerous mystery bubbling beneath the surface of personality, only twice breaking through and drowning the screen in its potency, like a mighty wave in a hurricane.
Carey Mulligan was appropriately delicate, flighty, flirty, a wisp of air, with snatches of wholesomeness and substance desperately trying to tread water and survive the corrupt shallowness of her class and era. They made her blonde, which is delightful because in the book, there is one mention of her hair color, and it is called "dark." But everyone I've ever talked to, including myself, imagines Daisy blonde. Even the way she speaks is daisy-like. Sunny and dainty, nuanced and frail. When she flicked her eyelashes, she was my Daisy. When she cried, in that high, airy voice, "Oh, it's just so hot, what will we do with ourselves!"
The others stood out, each in their own way: Tom Buchanan was sporty, good-looking, and drenched in masculinity like a strong cologne. He played the hypocritical dichotomy well, and holds that delicate balance in your bosom when he weeps, shaking, for the loss of his mistress. Jordan was cool, sharp, with the broad shoulders and steeliness of her character, probably the only way I will be able to imagine Jordan ever again. Even Toby Maguire worked well as the flaky cousin and narrator, Nick Carraway. Isla Fisher was the one person I hadn't thought of for the part: Myrtle is described as full and sensuous. Ms. Fisher was more floozy.
The added lines and scenes were always done for the good of the story. There was absolutely nothing I found unnecessary, over-the-top, or lacking. The choice to frame the movie with Nick's recovery and writing would have been cliche Hollywood if it wasn't so well worked into the plot and true to the novel. It gives the audience a premise for listening to Nick's story, Nick a reason to tell it, and drives home the impact the whole experience had on him. It ties in the disorder of events. And it ties it off so nicely, the way "The End" twists that heavy satisfaction in one's gut at the end of a masterpiece.
The symbols were kept intact and played well. They weren't shoved down the throat of the viewer, but it was impossible not to notice them and feel the weight of them tickling the back of your mind.
But the story, oh the story! It was this tender, intricate, painstaking lifting of the heart of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and its translation into visual art that made it probably the best movie I've ever seen before in my life. I was enthralled, hopelessly tangled with the characters, my happiness tied to their own. The friendship between Nick and Gatsby is itself a character, their affection and regard for each other is that tangible. The parties are glamorous, full of light and noise, beautiful and arresting and devoid of all that is wholesome, like bad champagne.
There is a moment when Nick and Gatsby have been talking, after a breath-taking, rushing chase through the dizzying, crowded party, with snatches of conversation caught in-between waiters baring crystal goblets. At last they stop, steady. Nick seems to gain his ground once more, and Gatsby turns around and introduces himself to his next-door neighbor for the first time. "I'm Gatsby." And multitudes of fireworks explode behind him in the background. It's not ridiculous. It should be, but it's not. Something about the build-up, the stylized storytelling, the fast-paced character of the era and the answers refused to audience, the warm, sincere smile on DiCaprio's face, makes it utterly appropriate.
In this film, we are allowed to enter into the mystery of Gatsby, the way a stargazer who, lying long in the evening grass, falls, drowning, into galaxies. We feel his hope, his limitless potential. We feel the sacrifice and loss of it when he chooses to love Daisy. We taste his naivety in bitterness all the while, but do not fault him. Because he is so, so good. And because he is, after all, ourselves.