"The Great Gatsby" spins the all-too-familiar tale of Babel – men indulge themselves with myriad delights, build a tower to the skies, only to watch every pleasure and achievement fall to rust and decay. It is a magnificent story, but ultimately hopeless.
Centering around intrigue, law-breaking, and marital infidelity, the tale, set amid the corruption of the 1920s into the early 20th Century, features a stunning biblical theme – the self-destruction which follows lewd drunkenness and corruption.
The energetic Jay Gatsby (stunningly performed by Leonardo DiCaprio) contrasts the lethargic narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire). An anxiety-ridden alcoholic, Nick recounts the story in an insane asylum.
"I've only been drunk twice in my life," Nick confides, as the second scene transitions to raucous debauchery. Nick's friend from Yale, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), introduces his flame, Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher). Flaunting his infidelity to his wife, Nick's cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), Tom throws a grand old party, complete with fluttering skirts, raucous laughter, and a trumpet blasting the bawdiness of jazz.
The story winds up at double infidelity – Tom sleeping with Myrtle and Daisy flirting with Gatsby – bringing destruction on the entire scene. Three iconic deaths follow one another, leaving Nick in the dust, heartbroken and despairing about the world.
In classic irony, however, Nick chooses to overlook Gatsby's connection to the mob – shown in his meeting gangster Meyer Wolfsheim (Amitabh Bachchan) in a speak-easy, where he also points out New York's police commissioner, clearly in his pocket.
Not only does Nick overlook Gatsby's less than noble means to fortune, but he glorifies him, adding the moniker "The Great" to the title of his book – merely "Gatsby" beforehand.
This satire shows the worthlessness of riches (no one comes to Gatsby's funeral), the destruction which follows corruption, and the empty faith men place in other men. While it hardly ever mentions Jesus, Christianity, or the Gospel, "The Great Gatsby" reveals the aching need for true, deep, sacrificial love.
This love – glimmers of which make Nick idolize his friend – answers the fundamental plea of the story. The final line – "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past" – captures the state of man without God, and reveals the deep desire for something more than riches, glamour, and sex.
When reflecting on the '20s, Christians remember Ecclesiastes, "vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, all is vanity." Post-war wealth, coupled with an unpopular prohibition on alcohol, set the engine afire, and the '20s roared into depravity.