The Great Illusions

(c) Terry Cryer
The opening of the Great Gatsby with its old technicolour footage through 1920´s New York, puts you right in the seat of what it must have felt like.  The swooping panning in and out, uses the ability of film to, remind you of how quickly progress was taking place, but with great industrial effort and manpower, unlike today where you can hardly see the mode of production.  Either masses of people are hidden in factories until a fatal fire puts focus on their invisible faces.  Or the machinery is so sophisticated and operating at such speed without the need for humans at all, we hardly see the process that is needed to build up vast machines either in size or quantity.  Here, in F. Scott Fitzgerald`s 1920`s, the production is visible.  Capitalism in not in some 'hidden abode' (Marx) it is rather side by side the neck aching sky-scrapers and just down the road from the vast estates of long island.  This kind of co-existence between workshop and showroom, still allows the humanity to seep through.  What is so worrying about modern times, is that we have still have that kind of facade, but now, once immersed into the showroom, it is even harder to see between the cracks of capitalism to the exploitation and mass construction, that hidden abode of capitalism.
(c) Terry Cryer
     Baz Luhrmann`s version of The Great Gatsby does slightly feel like a hang-over throughout the whole film, even at the height of hedonism.  However, perhaps this was intentional.   If Gatsby was deluded, projecting his fairytale onto both Daisy and everything around him, the audience needs to be fully aware of this throughout the film, even if Gatsby isn`t.  DiCaprio, has the intensity to play Jay Gatsby, who is a man of his time, both modern and nostalgic.  1920´s was breaking every rule, that would eventually lead to the 1930`s depression.   When time is heading at breakneck speed toward the future, like the motorcars of the day, new and slightly out of control, it is a human reaction to want to hang onto something that we understand.  So why not let it be our own imagined perfect past.  Our memories have that clever habit of editing out the bits that we wish not to see, so that we can replay over and over a perfect composition in our minds.  That is where Gatsby finds his comfort, whilst simultaneously being astute enough play-out to the syncopated beat of The Jazz Age. 
(c) Terry Cryer
     Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) orbits observantly around Gatsby, acutely aware of his duality which indeed Gatsby sees, but he likes to forget, as if he needs one last dance in his nostalgic past before finally letting go to his inevitable fate.  It is almost if he as silently asking Carraway permission to fall back into his illusion with Daisy, yet keeps him close, never far away both physically-being his neighbour-or emotionally through thought and protection. Carraway is his moral compass.  Gatsby knows that Daisy is not as pure as his imagination wishes her to be, but it is almost as if he wants to bask in the illusion, just we bask in the glamour and illusion of capitalism, longing to find fulfilment in it´s facade.  Ultimately this is an empty dream.  Everything solid melts into thin air (Marx).  Carraway doesn`t escape the illusions either.  At the beginning of the film we see him in a modest house surrounded by books of the time such as Joyce`s 'Ulysses' that he picks up, glances at and lays back down on the pile again indifferently, instead delving into a book about the markets whilst sat upon his balcony.  Yet his very intelligence that he utilised to get a foot into the dark arts of trading, led him to poverty and being treated by a Psychoanalyst for numerous elements such as anxiety and panic.  The
psychoanalyst looks beyond this and sees his observant ability asking him to express it through writing.  Once started he is unable to stop writing the story of 'The Great Gatsby'.  It is as if he had forgotten his skill as a writer and instead traded it in to get a piece of the heady action in global business.  Through writing he rediscovers his own moral compass.
     Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) is not as weak as I´ve heard some critics say.  She is a flawed character, but aren`t we all.  Fitzgerald modeled Daisy on women in his life including Zelda Fitzgerald.  Whilst he was writing the book, Zelda was having an affair in the South of France where they stayed, yet they were very much in love.  Having read some of Zelda`s work, she admired Fitzgerald a great deal, but she was always in the shadow of her love.  Women writers at that time were still largely in the shadows.  Virgina Wolf had great difficulty achieving the position that she held and had to make great sacrifices to just even be heard.  Zelda, dealt with her lack of visibility in other ways.  Perhaps she didn`t feel loved enough by a man that she deeply felt was her soul mate and reacted in 'impure' ways, and yet perhaps this was just a frustration of lack of agency in a world that favoured men as being "great" and women as the passive ones waiting to be rescued in their pure white veil.  
(c) Terry Cryer
    The 1920`s was breaking those illusions for what they really were-fake and unreal.  Yet Gatsby, perhaps like Fitzgerald was trying to hang onto that unreal image of the women that they loved.  In a funny scene in the movie the room is filled to the brim with flowers as if Gatsby is trying to cover up harsh realities with an overabundance of bloom.  Yet, he knows.  Dicaprio makes these cracks in consciousness evident, by running away out into the rain, almost purifying himself before he returns to face Daisy in reality and frowning upon sight of her, seeing in the light her flaws as a human being standing in front of her, different from his imagination.  This is the part that Fitzgerald realises that his imagination has being too many tricks him and yet he still wants to play out it`s game.  Do we still want to play out the late capitalist game, even though we know it is all an illusion?
    The choices that Daisy makes of first falling into his arms and then rejecting him, may seems fickle at a first glance, but perhaps she too knows that Gatsby`s love for her is just an illusion, so how could she commit to something that is not ultimately there?  Or is it that she allows herself to bask in his illusion in the hope through his love for her, he will look beyond and see her complexities and duality as well.  Ultimately though, Gatsby doesn`t, he wants to hang onto the illusion, rather than let it go and accept her flaws.  This is perhaps why she could not fully commit to him.  I have difficulty believing that she was just a weak woman who chooses that strongest man or the man of her class.  Fitzgerald created her as a more complex character than that.  There are precarious moments when it could have gone the other way, where both are aware of each other`s flaws and choose to look beyond that, but the illusions quickly come back to haunt them and they both don`t want to see beyond the smoke and mirrors.  Are we still in this time, where we refuse to let go and see beyond the haze?

"If it wasn`t for the mist we could see your home across the bay" said Gatsby "You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock".

Daisy put her arm through his abruptly, but he seemed absorbed in what he had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock.   His count of enchanted objects had diminished one by one.  (Fitzgerald: Chapter V)

When I was 22 I managed a photography Gallery Photofolio.  We exhibited and had a permenent collection of Terry Cryer`s works.  A skilled Jazz and portrait photographer, he finely depicts the vibrancy of music that rose from the street makes us dance the precarious duality of humanity.