Noise and Restlessness in ‘The Great Gatsby’

The Great Gatsby trailer appears over-the-top flashy, and at first I brushed it off as the to-be-expected Hollywood exaggeration, but maybe it’s not.

The peak of insanity, to be sure, is the house of Jay Gatsby, where he throws party after party to lure in the attention of his distanced lover, Daisy Buchanan. Director Baz Luhrmann imagines scantily dressed women hanging from chandeliers, uniformed butlers bearing bottomless glasses of liquor, and a sea of white balloons and confetti raining on a crowd of rowdy, dancing people, sounds of blaring music and fireworks to boot. (Keep in mind: he did previously direct the musical Moulin Rouge, not to mention his risque adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.)

Is this all part of the actual backdrop in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, or is Luhrmann taking creative, Hollywood-sized license? Why the visual and auditory overload of noise?

Well, let’s see. This passage is taken from Chapter 3 of The Great Gatsby:

On week-ends [Gatsby’s] Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city, between nine in the morning and long past midnight . . . On buffet tables, garnished with glistening horsd’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys . . . In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors . . . By seven o’clock the orchestra has arrived . . . a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos and low and high drums . . . Already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colors and hair shorn in strange new ways . . . The bar is in full swing and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside until the air is alive with chatter and laughter and casual innuendo and introductions . . . The groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form . . . Already there are wanderers, confident girls who weave here and there . . . glide on through the seachange of faces and voices and color under the constantly changing light. People were not invited—they went there . . . Somehow they ended up at Gatsby’s door . . . and after that they conducted themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with amusement parks.

Perhaps Luhrmann has been fair. And perhaps the busyness and the intensity of sensory images emphasize the godlessness and dissatisfaction of 1920s society.

This quote worked its way into my head as I thought through this society, and even if it is somewhat preachy, I find it an appropriate commentary:

“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence.” – Mother Theresa

Its this “noise and restlessness” that alert our senses – whether we are reading through the novel or viewing the trailer and I presume the film (May 10, 2013 is release date.) – and torture the characters. Maybe its the noise and restlessness that are the very causes of their alienation not only from God but one another.

More Info
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Free Online eBook
Official Movie Website

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