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
. 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
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
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.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU