'The Great Gatsby' Movie Review: Carey Mulligan's Daisy Buchanan No Role Model


Does it make sense for girls to look up to The Great Gatsby’s Daisy Buchanan? Yes: in the original novel and in Baz Luhrmann’s new film, she is extravagantly wealthy, breathtakingly beautiful, and has a certain enchanting charm that’s impossible to identify or replicate.

And her clothes — oh, those clothes! Any woman in any decade would kill for her closet — not to mention replicas of her jewelry for hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop. Her pastel palette and ethereal feathers are just as dreamy as her character. As far as we can tell, Daisy lives the perfect life of a trophy wife — lounging around a giant mansion while her husband makes her money and her help handles her daughter. And she is the inspiration and lifelong love for the most eligible bachelor in recent memory — who looks like Leonardo DiCaprio, no less! Let’s face it, who wouldn’t want a man who could have anyone or anything to love you, to build a mansion and host lavish parties and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in an attempt to express his adoration? It must be flattering, though neither practical nor sensible.

Yet both the novel and the film show us the cracks in this fantasy; her husband is cheating on her — none too subtly, either — and she pines for a love long lost. Or does she? We never really know what Daisy wants, because she lets her men speak for her. At the peak of her love triangle, in a sweaty room that undoubtedly symbolizes the percolating emotions, she barely utters a word. Jay Gatsby speaks for her and attempts to force words into her mouth, telling her to tell Tom that she never loved him. Meanwhile, Tom tugs at her heartstrings in an attempt to one-up Gatsby by proving that Gatsby never owned Daisy’s love like he believes. She is caught in the middle, her watering doe-eyes flitting from one lover to the other, watching as her life crumbles partly because of her doing, yet unable to do anything to fix it. So she does what any terrified little girl would do: she runs away, following her husband and leaving her indiscretions behind.

That being said, it would not be fair to compare Daisy to heroines of our day. The truth is that times have changed and women have gained volition, but the character of Daisy was molded into her specific state of dependence from an old model. Daisy is merely a pawn in Gatsby’s life, a vessel for his hopes and desires and the ultimate prize for his financial success, but it would not be fair of us to expect her to be much more. A 1920’s female character should not be expected to be a badass hero taking men down by slinging arrows, nor would she use her smarts to beat the men at their own game. Daisy’s weakness is integral to the novel’s plot and understandable for its setting.

Even the character’s portrayer, the enchanting Carey Mulligan, admits that Daisy has few fans: "Everyone said how much they hated Daisy. I had a lot of people go, 'Oh, she's awful.' And I was like, well, I can't think that about her, because I can't play her thinking she's awful.”

To look up to her as a role model seems wrong, yet to hate her for being enveloped in the oppressive societal structure of her time seems unfair as well.

Daisy is unworthy of our admiration. She is a compelling character, and Mulligan plays her brilliantly, but she is not an honorable character by any stretch of the imagination. Baz Luhrmann’s film asks us to indulge and lose ourselves in the visual spectacle of glittering dresses and flowing champagne. As Daisy famously says about her daughter upon our first meeting with her in the film The Great Gatsby, “I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

For living a carefree life, this is great advice; for living a life of substance and value, it is unconscionable. In viewing the film you should take Daisy’s advice: be a “fool.” Be a fool and covet only what is on the surface — the pearls, the furs, the immaculate lawn — because any deeper than that is murky territory filled with misguided ideals and broken pillars of feminism.