Those in Hollywood are the storytellers of our generation and popular movies are their primary medium. Their impact on our kids can be evaluated by how many millions of dollars they rake in on opening weekend. While most of the movies out there are mindless entertainment, sometimes we encounter a film that presents something far deeper.
The Great Gatsby is one of those films. In spite of some significant moral shortcomings, your teens can learn something from it. In fact, it is precisely because of its moral shortcomings that there is something to learn.
Granted, the movie has some content that I would typically be uncomfortable with my teenagers seeing. (Note: I have not yet seen The Great Gatsby; I am gleaning info from a few detailed reviews and from the talk I had with my 17 year old daughter after she saw it.) The movie has a little foul language. And some sexual references/activity. And plenty of drinking. The alcohol practically flows like a river. However, it is these excesses (and their aftermath) that make the movie so relevant.
Let's be honest: most of the movies marketed at teenagers today have sexual content as well as some drug and alcohol use. And most of these movies glamorize these behaviors to a point that it is legitimized in the eyes of our kids. These activities are presented as fun, rewarding, and a means to happiness. What is valuable about Gatsby is that it clearly presents those things but it shows the emptiness that they deliver. And that is a lesson that our kids need to learn.
My daughter enjoyed the movie because of its bigness and beauty but also because of its accurate display of truth. When I asked her about the characters, their values, and their life-choices, her response was to the point: "They're a bunch of idiots." I must confess: it was a proud parent moment for me.
Consider what the review at Plugged-in said:
"We're not supposed to like or blindly accept the bad behavior we see in The Great Gatsby. This is a story that asks us to grapple with the meaning of meaning - to feel the inherent emptiness that Nick eventually feels. We can see the glamorous tale that swirls around him, in some ways, as an echo of Ecclesiastes: "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure...Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun."
Movieguide.org released an excellent review that would be ideal for parents to encourage their kids to read, if only to help them to watch with discernment. They wrote:
"The book's ending, and the movie's as well, says that these hopes and goals are unattainable and , even if we do attain them, they will never leave us satisfied. Of course, in the Christian worldview of the New Testament, the only and best attainable hope and goal is establishing a deep and profound personal, and moral, relationship with God through Jesus Christ and His Gospel."
I also like what Stephanie Smith wrote at RelevantMagazine.com:
"We are drawn to The Great Gatsby for the reason we love any story: because we see ourselves in it. Whether we are teetering on the brink of a grand mistake, or quickening in our rush toward rock bottom, human nature knows all too well the feeling of loss of control. We know all too well what it feels like to slip into sudden free fall."
Most of us have experienced a season when we foolishly yet willfully chose sin over righteousness. We can be sure that our kids will experience it, as well. But we would be wise to take advantage of every opportunity we can to illustrate to our kids how painful our foolish choices can ultimately be. The Great Gatsby uses Hollywood's best talent, coolest music, and finest production to offer up just such an illustration for our kids. We should not waste the opportunity.
Hopefully, at the end of the day, our kids will be wise enough to confess a common truth found in both the movie characters and in many of their peers:
"They're a bunch of idiots."