Wednesday, September 25, 2013


The denunciation of the super rich is here without any hesitation.


To really understand this film, or the novel behind, you have to keep in mind the alternative story that D.H. Lawrence tells us in Women in Love. In the same way we are dealing with love in the upper class of the very rich  before the First World War and then after before the big crisis of 1929. I will not compare the two here but the two films also came out in the same period, the early 1970s after the 1968 political and generational crisis. They both carry the denunciation of the upper class.

We are telling the story from an outside point of view but yet close to the protagonists. The story teller, Mr. Nick Carraway, is a neighbor of Mr. Jay Gatsby and a bond seller in Wall Street, New York. Nothing to do with present time golden boys, the traders in Brokerage firms. Well-off but definitely not rich and anyway with no rich parents. Yet he is the cousin of another woman who is from an extremely rich family, married to an extremely rich man. Gatsby is the black sheep in the neighborhood.

He is from an extremely poor family. He managed to get an Oxford education after 1918 because he became an officer and was heavily decorated during the war and he then took advantage of veterans’ privileges. He had also the chance to fall in the hands of a certain Meyer Wolfsheim who introduced him to business, though we are never told what that business really is. We can imagine, due to the speed with which he became rich (less than eight years) that it had to be in some financial speculation in the 1920s. That period is clearly identified with the paraphernalia of the time and with the music, including the dancing, including the famous song Charleston. Note that Jay might not be a real first name, but an initial and that the name Gatsby is not the real name of the man who was the son of  a certain Mr. Gatz we see at the end. Note too that the name Wolfsheim is of course meaningful and the main principle of this man is “we can be a friend of a man when he is alive, but not when he is dead.”

At the end of WWI, Jay Gatsby, alias Major Gatz, fell in love with Daisy, a rich girl. But he was a poor man. She fell in love with him on a short-lived whim and he fell in love with her forever. But a rich girl does not marry a poor boy, as she says so well. So he disappears to build a fortune and she got married to a rich boy and became Mrs. Daisy Buchanan.  She had promised to wait but rich girls never wait.

When he is finally rich he manages to get close to her and then to be introduced to her by her cousin, Nick Carraway, and before he had tried to attract her attention by having enormous garden parties every week end in that summer of 1926 or 1927. She eventually falls in the trap.

The rest is to be discovered in the film, or the book.

The morality, bad word, the immorality of this film is that in spite of the American Dream, rich people attract and mix with rich people and poor people can only eventually be accepted when they are rich. The second lesson is that rich people with a rich pedigree can always manage to get through any crime or accident or whatever particularly by pointing at another of their class but that does not have the rich pedigree they have. This immorality can even be worse: rich men can have as many poor mistresses they will furnish with some luxury as much, and as many, as they want or can afford. But a rich woman is not supposed to have any affair with a rich man of any sort, and she will not condescend to have an affair with a poor man. It would not be in anyway anything but a short and exciting sexual episode that would be doomed even before it starts, and like the praying mantis she would destroy the poor lover after using it.

In other words a woman is the property of her husband but in no way the husband is the property of his wife, and social inequality is absolute in the USA, just like in Great Britain, in the 1920s just the way Henry James described it in his novels more than thirty years before. Nothing has changed.

The narrator is able to express this immorality and that is the only moral element in this film, and novel. Morality is on the side here of the upper middle class, and a lower stratum in that upper middle class. That means there may be some hope for such a society that is doomed because the rich do not care for their neighbors in all the meanings of this word. They only care for their money and the gossips that can be aired around them about them.

This older film shows these elements with great care but at the same time it is obvious Jay Gatsby is not natural as a rich man. He is not able to play the game properly: he is awkward, he is shy, he is inconsiderate in his presents and in his lavish help he may give to someone who is trying to make him realize one of his intentions or desires. One hundred white roses are not even enough in such a situation and he very well may send one thousand. The dialogue is good too in the fact that Jay Gatsby is the only one who has a linguistic idiosyncratic tick and he calls every man “old sport” and such an Oxfordian tic shows in him a rather recent integration in the class of the super rich: he cuts a role, a character, a behavior and sticks to it: he believes in a way the tuxedo makes the money aristocrat. And he is wrong: the money aristocrat is in the careless and nonchalant way he wears the tuxedo and that cannot be imitated.

All together a beautiful but cruel film on the egocentric selfishness of the super rich born super rich.


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