The elusive green light
That blinking green light. He was that close. So close he could see it when he stood outside his mansion in the fading twilight and looked out toward East Egg.
He is Jay Gatsby. The story is "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. And that green light is a symbol for the one thing in all of us that we long for. The one thing we never can quite grasp.
The 1974 film adaptation of Fitzgerald's novel was on TV the other night. I hadn't seen it since high school. I decided to skip the rest of the Illinois/North Carolina basketball game and spend some time with it.
The film holds up well. Particularly impressive is Robert Redford's understated performance. He is usually such a presence in most of his films. But here he backs off, content to stay well within Gatsby's shadow, bringing to the performance a sense of myth that fits the character.
Sam Waterston is the perfect fit as our narrator, Nick Carraway. Lois Chiles is her usual chilly self as golf star Jordan Baker. (I knew a guy in high school who was obsessed with her voice.)
Best of all is Bruce Dern as the utterly unlikeable fascist Tom Buchanan. Dern learned early in his career how to play a rat. By 1974 he was a master without equal.
It is obvious now that Mia Farrow was miscast. Her performance reminds one of the girl in elementary school who would run her fingers down the chalkboard.
Her shrill, uningratiating Daisy Buchanan makes one wonder why on earth Gatsby spent his life obsessing about her. This is what the fuss is all about?
To be fair, the part should have gone to Ali McGraw. But by the time the film was released, she was having an affair with Steve McQueen. Her ex-husband, producer Robert Evans, went with Farrow.
I don't know how much better the film would be with McGraw. Maybe Farrow's persona is such that it fits Daisy's ultimate destiny. But it's painful to watch.
I always wondered why I felt such an attraction to this story. I don't particularly have much of an attachment to the Roaring Twenties. A friend suggested I enjoy "Gatsby" because I admire a man who throws parties and then stays shut away upstairs.
Perhaps. Or maybe it's because of Redford. He's always been a favorite.
But maybe it is the story's theme that is so appealing. The notion of never attaining one's great desire, of never quite reaching that elusive blinking green light that is so close, yet so far. Gatsby gazed at the light blinking at the dock at Daisy's house. She was right there. She was his.
And yet she never would be his.
I don't really know what it means, but I always loved the last line of the novel.
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past," Fitzgerald wrote.
So it is. There's something universal in the idea that within us all is a longing that has never been fulfilled. Maybe it's a lost love. Or a broken dream.
Gatsby devoted his life to his quest. It ended in tragedy.
Maybe it's best we don't bother. Maybe, as Carraway suggests, we can't relive the past. But the nostalgic in me loves Gatsby's response.
Of course you can, old sport. Of course you can.