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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Great Gatsby

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan star in a scene from the movie "The Great Gatsby."
A great American novel doesn't always, it seems, translate into a sure-fire film property. A case in point: F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic 1925 tale, "The Great Gatsby."

Director and co-writer Baz Luhrmann's current 3-D adaptation (Warner Bros.) is at least the fourth effort to being Fitzgerald's chronicle of the Jazz Age to the big screen, the first of which dates back to the silent era.

Since that 1926 production -- helmed by Herbert Brenon -- has long been lost, it's impossible to assess its merits from this remove. But neither of its successors -- director Elliott Nugent's 1949 version starring Alan Ladd and Betty Field and Jack Clayton's 1974 release featuring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow -- generated much critical enthusiasm.

Despite its star power and a script by Francis Ford Coppola, Clayton's offering was widely regarded as pretty but listless. Though that's unlikely to be anyone's assessment of Luhrmann's film -- which is, if anything, overcharged and bursting at the seams -- there are other problems afoot.

In particular, Luhrmann's splashy, sometimes cartoonish approach to the material creates a fablelike setting that distances viewers from Fitzgerald's characters -- and thereby lessens the emotional impact of their downfall.

For those who failed to peruse even the Cliff Notes during high school or college, here's the setup: Narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), Mid-western-bred scion of the WASP establishment, moves to New York, becomes a tyro bond salesman and rents an inexpensive summer cottage on Long Island as a venue for weekend getaways.

His neighbor there, the occupant of a vast, fantastical mansion, is iconic self-made man and would-be social insider Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Gatsby's past is shadowy; so too is the source of his seemingly inexhaustible wealth.

Besides sharing the same neighborhood, Nick and Gatsby have something else in common as well: Nick's alluring cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), whom Gatsby, as a World War I-era G.I., once romanced and for whom he continues to carry an obsessively-blazing torch. There's just one difficulty: Daisy is now married to old-money millionaire and despicable cad Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

At Gatsby's request, Nick engineers a reunion for the duo, hardly guessing that the renewed connection will lead on, first to adultery, then to a disastrous confrontation with Tom and finally, through convoluted circumstances, to tragedy.

Luhrmann revels in the frenzied decadence of Gatsby's lifestyle, choreographing the riotous, gin-laden parties the mystery man hosts in a manner that suggests Busby Berkeley on hallucinogens.

Additionally, Luhrmann's script, penned in collaboration with Craig Pearce, tends to glamorize the sinful relationship at the heart of the story, suggesting that an unpleasant spouse and the inherent superiority of the illicit lovers are reason enough to ignore the Sixth Commandment.

As Gatsby himself might put it: Not so, old sport.

The film contains scenes of both lethal and nonlethal violence with minimal gore, an uncritical view of adultery, brief semi-graphic adulterous activity as well as some other sexual content, a glimpse of partial nudity, a few uses of profanity, a couple of crude terms and a religious slur. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Rose Philippine Duchesne: Born in Grenoble, France, of a family that was among the new rich, Philippine learned political skills from her father and a love of the poor from her mother. The dominant feature of her temperament was a strong and dauntless will, which became the material—and the battlefield—of her holiness. She entered the convent at 19 and remained despite their opposition. As the French Revolution broke, the convent was closed, and she began taking care of the poor and sick, opened a school for homeless children and risked her life helping priests in the underground. 
<p>When the situation cooled, she personally rented her old convent, now a shambles, and tried to revive its religious life. The spirit was gone, and soon there were only four nuns left. They joined the infant Society of the Sacred Heart, whose young superior, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, would be her lifelong friend. In a short time Philippine was a superior and supervisor of the novitiate and a school. But her ambition, since hearing tales of missionary work in Louisiana as a little girl, was to go to America and work among the Indians. At 49, she thought this would be her work. With four nuns, she spent 11 weeks at sea en route to New Orleans, and seven weeks more on the Mississippi to St. Louis. She then met one of the many disappointments of her life. The bishop had no place for them to live and work among Native Americans. Instead, he sent her to what she sadly called "the remotest village in the U.S.," St. Charles, Missouri. With characteristic drive and courage, she founded the first free school for girls west of the Mississippi. </p><p>It was a mistake. Though she was as hardy as any of the pioneer women in the wagons rolling west, cold and hunger drove them out—to Florissant, Missouri, where she founded the first Catholic Indian school, adding others in the territory. "In her first decade in America, Mother Duchesne suffered practically every hardship the frontier had to offer, except the threat of Indian massacre—poor lodging, shortages of food, drinking water, fuel and money, forest fires and blazing chimneys, the vagaries of the Missouri climate, cramped living quarters and the privation of all privacy, and the crude manners of children reared in rough surroundings and with only the slightest training in courtesy" (Louise Callan, R.S.C.J., <i>Philippine Duchesne</i>). </p><p>Finally at 72, in poor health and retired, she got her lifelong wish. A mission was founded at Sugar Creek, Kansas, among the Potawatomi. She was taken along. Though she could not learn their language, they soon named her "Woman-Who-Prays-Always." While others taught, she prayed. Legend has it that Native American children sneaked behind her as she knelt and sprinkled bits of paper on her habit, and came back hours later to find them undisturbed. She died in 1852 at the age of 83 and was canonized in 1988.</p> American Catholic Blog It was important for some saints to vanish from view, to “decrease” so that God could “increase” in the scheme of things. Many saints actively fought promotions. If obedience required embracing them, they found other ways to remain lowly.

 
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