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Contrary to what many of you may be thinking, this is neither a movie review nor an analysis of the text. No, I’ve analysed The Great Gatsby enough for a life time during my years as an English tutor as the text was quite a popular choice for school curricula.
No, this is not an analysis. It is a confession. A reflection. A soliloquy. As I have no idea how long my pensive mood will last, I will pick my brain in as orderly a fashion as I can muster and let this post flow where it will.
Confession. I cried twice in this movie. There is still social stigma against a man displaying tears but I am confident enough in my masculinity to admit it proudly. It has been said that just because a man does not show emotion does not mean he does not feel. I will go one further to say that men of a certain calibre feel more – so strongly that their emotion enters the realm of the profound.
Something that few people can appreciate is that when I say I cried, it was not a ‘boohoo, waaah’ kind of sobbing cry. It was a deep ache of sadness that constricted my throat and pierced down into my heart. It was the kind of pain that made my eyes water until I blinked, and a single tear rolled down my left cheek. Profound and meaningful. What meaning you say?
Reflection. Why did I cry? There must be meaning for a man to shed profound tears. It was not the movie. Baz Luhrmann’s adaption of the classic text was one that approached from an easy angle. He played the text as a love story – which it was – but neglected many of the other morals and themes of the original text. However, I do not fault him in his choice and I applaud him for his interpretation. The movie was a writhing current of human emotion, and I think this is important in a way you will soon understand. Overall, I recommend the movie, but do not expect too much from it. Perhaps it was because I already knew what was going to happen, but honestly, the movie had only two moments in it that really struck a chord with me.
So what was it? Why did I feel so stricken by these two moments in the movie? The line (loosely quoted) that started this was first spoken by Jordan Baker.
Coincidence? No, don’t you get it? Gatsby bought this house on purpose so that he could be close to her. He threw these parties hoping that one day she would wander in. Everything he’s done is for her.
I cried because I remembered a time where I too loved so strongly and so innocently. It also reminded me that I can no longer love like that anymore. Finally, it personified a struggle that I feel that only men can understand (I’m generalising here but it’s mostly true).
Soliloquy. Now, because of the kind of person I am, I must apply my knowledge to this perplexing rush of feeling I have experienced. There is so much to say and I don’t really know where to begin. I suppose I shall start by qualifying my last statement.
The struggle that only men can understand is a pursuit of perfection. Again, I do not wish to sound misogynistic – I am generalising – but this is an emotion more strongly felt by men than women. Why? Some might attribute it to pride. I think pride plays a large role, and we all know that men are prideful creatures. But there’s more, and this is something I feel as though I always knew but only now bothered to think on.
Carraway describes Gatsby as:
The single most hopeful person I have ever met, and will likely ever meet.
Why? An odd compliment to give to someone. Unless you thought (mistakenly) that he was an optimist. No, it has nothing to do with that. Carraway is describing the struggle I have mentioned – the pursuit of perfection. Gatsby’s hopes were to accomplish a dream, and his dream was so grand, precise and perfect that to chase it could only be described as exceedingly hopeful. In essence, Gatsby was chasing perfection. He built himself from the ground up, from absolutely nothing to an icon of the city. He did it for a woman, yes. Daisy was a large part of his motivation, but there was more.
The movie diverges a bit from the book at this point by adding some embellishments to Gatsby’s mysterious past, but the essence of it is that Gatsby met Daisy and they fell in love. Real, innocent and pure love. But she could not be with him because he was penniless, something that he knew at the time but she did not.
So Gatsby forged a perfect dream and obsessed over it. He overcame incredible things to make himself “good enough” to be with her. That’s important, remember that.
As a man, I have always dreamed of success and wealth. But why? Again, generalising, but men are often more ambitious, more academic and more driven to wealth and success. This stems, in part, from patriarchal values (which is why in our liberated world, women are increasingly becoming successful) but I think it goes further back than that. In short, it is evolutionary. Why do men strive for perfection? For success? To breed.
Love is a social construct. We will not get far in discussion unless we accept this. There is no room for Disney romance in here – in a purely animalistic sense, love does not exist. However, that does not mean it is not real. But why do we do what we do? Because only the best of men could mate in the wild and this was our first order imperative – and still is. Men mate so that the species thrives, and to be able to mate requires success. We now live in a time where it is no longer just physical success that determines which men get to mate, but nevertheless success in something is required.
I have heard it said “Don’t chase women, chase the money and the women will come.” I would correct that to “Chase success” because success is not limited to just money, but if you become the best at anything worth being the best at, you will attract attention and women.
So this explains the impulse in men that makes them more likely to be ambitious and pursue perfection, but what about the lazy ones that don’t? Men need a catalyst. We’re designed to react, like a chemical compound, but we need a catalyst to cause that reaction. For many men, if not all, the strongest catalyst is love.
Love can be for many things. Love of country. Love of family. Love of life. But for those of us that are lucky (or perhaps cursed), it is love of a woman that really sets off the explosions. Gatsby had always dreamed of success but it took Daisy to make him achieve it. And personally, I know that I was a lazy, unmotivated slob back in my younger days. It took the unbearable thought of someone more successful than me stealing away my love to really make me work for success. What drove me to almost obsess about my “plan” for the future was her. I wanted to be able to support her, keep her happy, keep her attracted and just … keep her. But this is not as naive as it sounds. I do not believe in “the one” but I do believe in reactions. People cause reactions in each other all the time, some for better and some for worse. She has caused the best reaction in me out of all the girls I have been with. Everything I do, I do for her.
Now, why is this a struggle? Why did I cry over this? Because I feel a great deal of inequality in the plight of men compared to that of women. And now feminists are going to be crying for my blood, but that’s not the point. I am not talking about social disparity of genders. I am talking about love. I believe love should be equal, but I also know now that such an idea is just fantasy. Very few organic things in the universe are capable of being equal – if any. I know for a fact that I put more into our relationship than my partner does, and that is no fault of hers. It is no fault of anyone’s. It just the struggle of a man, and it is why I felt so connected to Gatsby’s struggle. Everything he did was for her, and all she did was:
smash up things and creatures and then retreated back into her money, or her vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept her together, and let other people clean up the mess.
Biological evolution will explain why we men struggle like this. As we are shaped by social constructs, love represents the epitome of our evolutionary goal. It is why we struggle. And as Daisy says:
The best thing a girl can be in this world is a beautiful fool.
Because once you are no longer a fool, you would understand the suffering we go through and would be dragged into it too.
One last thing to qualify – I said I also cried because I know I can never love like that again. There is a saying amongst men that the first girl to break your heart is the one that changes you and turns you into a man. If there isn’t such a saying, there is now because I say it a lot. And it’s true.
Women are wretched things that love carelessly and dangerously. You are all free to dispute me on this but there will never be a scientific or statistical representation confirming either claim. However, I say from my own opinion, vast wealth of knowledge and empirical data (I’m trying to be humble here) that men are the ones that truly fall in love.
Ask a woman what the top 10 traits of an ideal guy are. I guarantee the majority of women will mention something external to the man – money, belongings or status. Women are not satisfied with just the person, they want more. They always want more. Now ask the same thing of a guy. What are the top 10 traits of your ideal woman? I guarantee the majority of guys will only say things internal to the woman. They love the person. Men do not care about what is around her, what she belongs to or what she owns. Men love the person herself.
Again, I am not being misogynistic. I am being honest. I hold none of this against either men or women – this is simply reality. But the fact is, almost all guys will love as purely as Gatsby until they’ve had their hearts broken.
When you have your heart broken by a girl it’s not something you ever forget. It changes you profoundly. To be more of a “jerk”. More selfish. More cynical. More jaded. Or as I like to see it, more lucid. You see reality more clearly. It is not worth loving that purely because humans are not made to handle something that pure. To protect yourself, it is more wise to keep yourself at an arms-length to every girl and question whether “the one” is even real.
I cannot ever love like Gatsby again, because I know better. But at times I wish I still could.
Nevertheless, that does not diminish “real” love. Real love is not pure because we taint it just by being human. But it is no less valid and no less strong than pure love. It is merely different.
Real love is a mix of emotions. I told you this was important. It is not ideal like Gatsby’s. Real love is pain and happiness. Greed and selflessness. Because humans have too many emotions for pure love to ever exist. But how do you know it’s love then? I mentioned earlier that Gatsby was qualifying himself to Daisy. He did not return to her right after the war because he was penniless, and he put so much emphasis on his successes when meeting both Nick and Daisy that it was blaringly obvious that he needed them to understand that he was now qualified enough to be with her. War hero. Oxford man. Wealthy. Famous. He needed these things for Daisy. Partly because she would not have accepted him as just a penniless suitor, but partly because he needed himself to be good enough before he would be happy chasing her. I think part of love is when you change for a woman.
Don’t get me wrong. Women always try to change their men. That’s wrong and a fruitless endeavour. No, when the man wants to change. When he willingly and obsessively chases perfection to qualify himself, that’s love.
There’s more though. This pursuit of perfection becomes inseparable to us men. We can lose the woman but still chase the dream because that dream has already become a symbol of our love. Women, you are not that special – to put it harshly. Don’t make us do all the work. A driven, obsessed man will leave you in the dust and still chase his dream because his dream will have a woman in it but it doesn’t have to be you. If this sounds harsh or unfair to you, then you are most likely the kind of woman that does not pull her weight in a relationship. Relationships are hard work, so when you make the man do all the work and he realises that he can do all the work, you better be careful because he might realise that he can leave you behind.
Unfortunately, this works both ways. Gatsby had a chance to be with Daisy. He could have avoided everything but his obsession and hopefulness ruined him. Daisy gave him a chance to run away together. But he could not accept. He had worked too hard for everything. His dream was bigger than just her, though she was the centrepiece. He needed his success, his wealth and his status with Daisy, and could not bear the thought of separating them. Because they were all his dream.
You can never be anything but yourself, but there are many aspects to the human psyche. You can be vastly different but still be you. But which you do you want to be?
If Gatsby’s missed opportunity says anything, it is that he lost sight of his original goal. He changed to much and forgot what was really important.
In his younger days, he hesitated when he approached Daisy because he knew that if he fell in love with her, he would feel wed to her. He could not do that because that would forever change his destiny – and he was destined for greater things. Later, he returns with only one piece missing from his dream but in the end, she smashes it all.
There is a message here that could be slightly misogynistic. I consider it mostly true. Women are a huge distraction that can limit your potential. But at the same time, they can cause you to reach your potential. That is for you to decide.
But for me, I feel pensive and melancholy because Gatsby was a part of me – and I suspect a part of all men. He was a naïve younger self that loved too purely. A dreamer with too much ambition. And an obsessive pursuer of perfection. These are all parts of me that I can relate to and Gatsby embodies a failure of these endeavours. To me, there is nothing more painful than seeing the purest and strongest of a man’s dreams broken by a woman he loved too much.
I have never seen a cinema as quiet and depressed as when I left after this movie.
But for me, that blinking green light has slipped too far that I cannot reach it. It is but a memory of a time when I dreamed too carelessly and loved too strongly.