It’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool. — Daisy of The Great Gatsby
I grew up on both sides of the fence, going to school with mini-Daisies and then working in their homes for their families.
Watching The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow brings back the anxiety I used to get when I was working for rich people. An oldie, but goodie, a streamlined, slick version of the classic novel that has resurrected with Bazo Luhrman’s film. This version appears less rich than this latest interpretation, but…
it is SO rich, which is depicted by the less fantastical, but still opulent sets and scenery, eliciting a more realistic sour smell of money.
When I read the book, I used to imagine the parties, Jay Gatsby’s house, the car, the dresses and long pearls, the men in light sand colored suits. But, I could not imagine how rich and creamy as it probably was in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s mind. Looking back, I see that most likely this film’s setting better depicts what Fitzgerald had pictured than my mind’s eye ever could.
The truth is, I have actually been in many “rich” people’s homes, surrounded by columns, tennis courts, breakfast rooms, tree houses in the back yard. The walls and halls make you shudder and walk nervously because what’s hanging on them is more expensive than a few of your cars. I’ve been to parties and gatherings at these homes in middle school and high school for sports dinners, sweet sixteens, bar mitzvahs. The high school I graduated from costs more than 30,000 grand a year now.
Here’s the thing though, I went for free. The circumstances I was in as a teen provided me with the delicacies of a good education (I’m your cliché scholarship kid) . I’ll admit it– I’m well trained to critically think, to invent, to push myself and to deal with highly-privaledged and many times elitist people. On the other hand, due to the reality of my non-school life at this time, which contrasted greatly from the reality of my peers’ lives, I’m also well trained at serving others, keeping my mouth shut while internally completely aghast, knowing the maintenance staff, the warm and cozy manager of the cafeteria, the Rastafarian soup chef, the administrative assistant at the front desk. I see both sides of the coin always. The giant gap between economic statuses is a crack on the sidewalk for me.
In college, I actually served many of the families associated with the school to earn some money. As close to the ground level as I felt by waiting on the parents of my peers, they were great contacts, completely loaded. One time as I rounded a room with a platter of shrimp, I literally had to take the shrimp tails bare-handedly from a woman that didn’t know what to do with them after she had eaten the sweet meat (I guess she’s never heard of a trash can?). I witnessed, on more than one occasion, tough, anorexic women dressed completely in designer wear verbally abuse their housekeepers.
The strangest thing about roaming around these people and taking drink orders was how little they regarded me. They had long forgotten that I had graduated from the same school as their sons and daughters, that I was just as intellectually built, as embedded with sports awards and grade rewards. In black slacks, no slip shoes and a white collared shirt, I was like a walking pitcher. I was a voice that brought them what they wanted. The only time I was perceived at these parties as more than just a person that collects plates, was when when drunk guests approached me.
Usually there was always at least one at every party that would become obsessed with me, completely preoccupied by my every move, perhaps trying to make out the shape of my bra. Eventually toward the end, when we (the small staff) were cleaning the dishes, the man would approach me, watery drink in hand, to ask me questions and flirt with me in a sort of condescending way. There were women too, who sometimes were more intimidating then the men, more subtle, but yet somehow, more dominating than the jolly wasted guys.
Anyhow, these are the richest people I’ve seen. In my book, these people are rich [period].
But, Jay Gatsby! This is another level. The homes I went to for Track meet dinners, or to serve dinners were typically very new and shiny. Gatsby’s place, however, is obviously larger, but it’s also weighty like a pyramid in Egypt, as though it has been in the story’s landscape forever. It is painted white, but as the viewer, I can see the shadow of soot inside the workings of the columns and porches. No, it doesn’t make it look any less spectacular. It actually enhances the richness of the place, coming off more as a castle that had been passed down for generations. This contrasts significantly to recently built houses in Coconut Grove, the ones that had swallowed Old Florida cottages with their chlorinated swimming pools and obvious driveways.
This Gatsby is massively rich. Daisy is enchantingly dove-like, as futile and difficult, yet as desired, as silk. These people don’t work; their lives are cat-like. They move from pillow to pillow, hardly ever touching their fancy feasts.
She buys a dog on the spur of the moment. She can have a white house and a dog if she wants. During this scene, I had an epiphany. Daisy is such a dove in a garden that the illogicalness of this choice does not even flutter in her mind. The furniture is always white no matter what; she doesn’t have any regard for how it manages to stay so beautifully white. She has never cleaned it. Someone else does. The poorly designed combination of white and dog is not on her radar. It’s not even the outlying Pluto in her solar system.
Gatsby, as played by Robert Redford, I can already tell is a well-designed male character, with a natural masculinity that no amount of luxury living could take away. His suits are crisp and perfectly fit, but his skin carries a hint of unrest and ocean. The intensity of these actors is almost psychedelic. They display passion in a dangerous way, a way that us normal folks would never dive into because we are weary of the trouble such passion can cause, perhaps distracting us from the real matters of life.
The film has no shame in portraying sparkles in the eyes, teeth and earrings all at once during close-ups.