Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Commentary: 'Learning the Lesson of Jay Gatsby' by Joseph Ford Cotto

Jack Clayton's 1974 rendition of The Great Gatsby is the quintessential American epic, as well as a particularly sophisticated blockbuster. While the film falls short of masterpiece status — in fact, it becomes quite disjointed during the end of the second act — the fabled 1920s are recreated to such a stunning extent that the atmosphere alone almost makes up for this. 

A breakout performance by Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway, along with an enchanting Jay Gatsby in Robert Redford and highly alluring Jordan Baker portrayed by Lois Chiles, add nicely to the mix.

What is really confounding is the sheer emotional output that Gatsby offers to Daisy Buchanan, whose role was badly miscast with Mia Farrow. For a while, the love is reciprocated, but even in the couple's most tender moments, it is clear that Gatsby gives far more than he gets in return.

This unfortunate fact is noticed early on by Carraway, as anyone who has seen the film or read F. Scott Fitzgerald's legendary novel — the novel which brought a literary face to the Jazz Age — knows. 

Nick straightforwardly tells Jay that his expectations are simply too high for Daisy, who is entangled in an unhappy but socially acceptable marriage, and one cannot feasibly expect to repeat the past times in which the war hero-turned-bootlegger and the society woman partook in a youthful romance. Gatsby, for all of his business and military acumen, appears stunned, only muttering that such a thing is indeed possible.

It is this stunning naiveté that really catches one's attention. In the end, Gatsby pays the ultimate price for his wish to integrate fantasy and reality. Carraway notes with disgust that Daisy refuses to acknowledge the funeral, much less attend it. Obviously, the lesson here is that looking back to days gone by does no good in the long term.

However, I note something deeper.

The love that Gatsby had for Daisy was of a patently emotionalist nature. There was no reason applied; after all, would a rational individual honestly expend so much time and energy on someone who does not fully appreciate these truly meaningful things? Not in my book. Carraway comes to the conclusion that it was Gatsby's decision to operate on feeling rather than thought that killed him.

Perhaps this is the message that ought to be taken away from the story of Jay Gatsby. It should not be applied only to romance, but to any other situation in which objective facts have to be weighed, and hard choices made afterwards. While our respective outcomes might not be violent like Gatsby's — we should hope — placing emphasis on mind over matter will undeniably take anyone willing to do so a long way.

At any rate, it sure beats the alternative.


Joseph Ford Cotto, 1st Baron Cotto, GCCCR is the editor-in-chief of the San Francisco Review of Books. In the past, he covered current events and style for The Washington Times's Communities section, where he interviewed personalities ranging from Fmr. Ambassador John Bolton to Dionne Warwick. Cotto was also a writer for Blogcritics Magazine and Yahoo's contributor network, among other publications. In 2014, H.M. King Kigeli V of Rwanda bestowed a hereditary knighthood upon him, which was followed by a barony the next year.


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