Those who know me should be aware that I am a huge Leonardo DiCaprio fan. Thus, when I heard that he would be starring in this summer’s re-make of the film The Great Gatsby, I knew in my heart that I should read the book.
In high school, I took a number of English courses, but believe it or not I was never assigned this book. Rather, I read other big-name titles, such as 1984, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and, my personal favorite, To Kill a Mockingbird. But F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most well-known book was never one that I was required to have completed.
I have a group of friends that (to put it broadly) are very aesthetic people. They enjoy tea, literature and taking baths while drinking red wine. I don’t get it either. But anyway, I approached these people one Saturday afternoon to ask them if they had read Gatsby, hoping to enquire about whether or not it was a worthwhile read or if I should just overlook it altogether. Apparently they thought I was joking, so one particular friend immediately ruined the ending for me. For those of you out there that have not yet read Gatsby, I will not spoil it for you, but let’s just say that it involves ballistics and aquatics. You’ll figure it out.
If none of you have ever had the ending of something ruined for you before completing it, mark my words: it is a painful, infuriating phenomenon. It removes all suspense and sense of wonder that makes reading a book or watching a film so enjoyable. Sometimes the true pleasure is in the journey and not in the final destination, and my friend murdered that feeling of adventure for me.
I finished this book last week over spring break and immediately developed a sense of dissatisfaction. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading it, but I was left wanting more out of stories and plots. I then turned to Netflix to see which TV shows or films piqued my curiosity.
I had gotten so sick of the predictable and formulaic nature of commercialized, Hollywood-esque productions that I wanted a new and unique narrative form. I am not “hipster” enough to be one of those guys that willingly gets into foreign films, so I went for the next best thing: indie movies.
I hated myself for clicking on the “Independent Film” section of the Netflix Instant Cue tab, for I assumed a number of things about this genre: it’s boring, low-budget and pointless. Regardless of these feelings, I struggled through them and started browsing the titles that appeared. I had to start small, so I chose a movie that starred Jason Segel and Ed Helms, two mainstream actors whom I already enjoyed.
I couldn’t pin it down, but something about the plot, the acting and the beautiful simplicity of this movie (Jeff, Who Lives at Home) hooked me. I had time on my hands, so I watched another similar movie immediately afterwards. That night before bed I put on a third film, fell asleep halfway through and then woke up in the morning and finished it before getting out of bed.
There I was, this (slightly) narrow-minded jerk who assumed he would hate this film genre purely based on false preconceptions. Within a week I had fallen in love with this elusive concept present in these independent films that had grabbed onto me and held on tight. And, in a roundabout way, it was all due to finishing a decent literary classic that left me wanting more.
Like when you go to an Asian restaurant and just get a simple rice dish. Yeah, it tastes good and probably smells like heaven, but let’s be honest, how many times in your life have you finished a rice-based meal and thought to yourself, “Man! That hit the spot”?
I know this is ambitious, but I encourage everyone to try something new. It doesn’t have to be monumental, but think about the things in your life that you seem to dislike but don’t really have a good reason why. Maybe it’s that kid with the weird shirt in class who you despise but really don’t have any valid reasons. Maybe it’s yoga or tofu or folk music.
Whatever it is, challenge yourself. Try something new. Experience more than what comes naturally. You don’t have to like it in the end, but there is an immense satisfactory feeling in giving something another shot that you initially believed would only bore or annoy you. Except for Matt Damon. That guy actually sucks.