A tea kettle comes to a boil as Gatsby and Daisy settle into their afternoon together. Nick carries a tray of tea out to the two of them, and pours it as the couple look at one another mournfully. As Gatsby tells Nick that he and Daisy have met before, he accidentally knocks the clock off the mantle, breaking it. Nick and Daisy watch in comic disbelief at Gatsby’s overwhelming anxiety. The trio struggles to make conversation, and Daisy informs Nick that they haven’t seen each other in many years. When Nick serves tea, they remain silent, sipping tensely. Eventually Nick excuses himself and runs out the front door. Gatsby chases Nick, fretting that the reunion is all a mistake, but Nick assures him that Daisy is just as embarrassed as him, which seems to comfort Gatsby. Eventually Gatsby works up the courage to re-enter the house, and Nick watches and encourages Gatsby as he approaches Daisy yet again. Nick stands out in the rain and we hear him narrate in voiceover, “Looking over my story so far, I am reminded that for the second time that summer, I was guarding other people’s secrets. Once again, I was within and without.”
Nick goes back in the house and bangs a dish in the sink to get Daisy and Gatsby’s attention, but the lovers are lost in each other’s gaze. Eventually he clears his throat to get their attention and informs them that the rain has stopped. Gatsby goes outside and looks at the sunlit harbor, inviting Daisy to join him, where she notices that her house is directly across the bay. The couple stand on either side of a column looking out at the water, and Gatsby invites both Nick and Daisy over to his house that afternoon. Nick asks if Gatsby is sure that he wants him to come, and Gatsby insists. The scene shifts and Gatsby leads Nick and Daisy through his front gates, which are opened by two servants, and which he informs them he purchased from a castle in Normandy. Daisy marvels at the grandness of the mansion, and asks him how he can live there alone, to which he assures her that he keeps it full of “interesting and celebrated people.” She follows him towards the house. As Daisy goes into the mansion Gatsby pulls Nick aside to tell him that the mansion looks perfect, and Nick agrees.
As Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” plays, we see a montage of the group admiring the luxuries of Gatsby’s mansion. Freshly squeezed orange juice pours out of a giant machine, the three of them jump into the harbor gleefully, surrounded by doting servants, they sip champagne on a dock and hit golf balls into the water. The camera pans outward to show the trio out on a dock having a wonderful time as Nick takes Gatsby and Daisy’s photograph. The scene shifts again to a grand hall inside Gatsby’s mansion, and we see the ornate and buttressed gold ceiling. Daisy rushes into the room, laughing, followed by Gatsby and Nick. When Daisy marvels at the gigantic Wurlitzer organ, Gatsby summons the organist to come and play for them. She rushes up a staircase as Gatsby watches, enchanted. In his bedroom, Gatsby stands on a balcony above and throws down hats and magnificent clothes from his closet. As he begins to throw down shirts, Daisy stands on the bed and catches them. He throws down so many shirts that she collapses in a heap of them, at first laughing, but then quickly becoming distraught. When Gatsby runs down to meet her, she stares at the shirts sadly and tells him, “It makes me sad because…” Here she falters and Nick narrates, “Five lost years struggled on Daisy’s lips, but all she could manage was…” Here Daisy finishes the sentence, “Because I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts before," and Gatsby kisses her forehead.
As Nick walks down the spiral staircase in Gatsby’s bedroom, he spots a picture of a man, as well as a map of Cuba, both of which give him pause. Gatsby holds Daisy and says, “If it wasn’t for the mist, we could see the green light.” When Daisy asks him what he means, he clarifies that he is talking about the green light at the end of her dock. Nick narrates in voiceover that now that Gatsby possessed Daisy, the green light no longer held the same enchanted quality that it had before. Nick interrupts the couple to ask about a photograph of a young Gatsby and an older gentleman, whom Gatsby informs him is Dan Cody—“he used to be my best friend years ago.” As Daisy begins to examine the photograph of Dan Cody, Gatsby beckons her over to look at a photo album, in which he has collected various clippings and letters from Daisy over the years. Daisy looks through the album, examining her old love letters, as well as an announcement of her engagement to Tom. The phone rings, interrupting their nostalgia, and Gatsby goes to answer it. He tells the man on the other end that he can’t talk, and Nick catches him whispering secretively as the French doors of the bedroom burst open in the wind and Nick rushes over to close it. Gatsby sneers into the phone, “Look, he’s of no use to us if Detroit is his idea of a small town!” which catches Nick’s attention. Gatsby concludes the phone call as the organ begins to play downstairs.
Gatsby sits on a luxurious assembly of pillows in the grand hall, laughing and watching Nick and Daisy dance. He becomes lost in thought and has a flashback to his romance with Daisy as well as the vagaries of war. Outside, the dock and veranda are overtaken by mist, as a storm descends on the harbor and we see the green light across at the Buchanans'. Later, the organist is asleep at the organ, Nick sips a drink, and Daisy and Gatsby dance silently. Nick says his goodbyes, and Daisy tells Gatsby, “I wish it could always be like this.” He assures her it will be. Nick writes at the sanatorium of Gatsby’s unwavering devotion to Daisy, and his uncapped desires to win her hand. We then see Nick telling his doctor the real life story of Jay Gatsby. His name was in fact, Jay Gatz, and he was born in North Dakota to poor farmer parents. We see a young Jay Gatz, as Nick narrates that Jay never accepted his birth parents as his own, and always dreamed of better things. We see a young Jay Gatz, sitting in a tent in North Dakota, as Nick tells us that Jay believed himself to be a “son of God, destined for future glory.” At 16, Jay ran away from home. Off the coast of Lake Superior, Nick tells us, Jay saw a yacht in peril on the stormy seas and went out in a small row boat to save the passengers. On the yacht was the alcoholic millionaire, Dan Cody. We see Gatz in flashback, helping Dan Cody set the yacht on the right course, and Dan Cody calls him “old sport,” the origin of Gatsby’s almost compulsive catch phrase. The young Gatz helped Cody bring the boat to shore, and went on to work on Cody’s yacht, which they sailed around the world.
Back at Gatsby’s mansion, we see Gatsby telling Nick his story. Gatsby stares at a portrait of Dan Cody, as Nick narrates that Dan Cody taught Gatsby the ways of a gentleman. We once see a young Gatsby sailing Cody’s yacht, as Nick continues: “Gatsby hoped to inherit Cody’s fortune, but when Cody died, Gatsby was cheated of his inheritance by Cody’s family. He had been left with the ability to play the gentleman, but he was once again dirt poor.” The music shifts to a throbbing electronic bass line, as we see various newspapers announcing Gatsby’s wealth. Nick tells us that soon enough, Gatsby had earned millions. Beyonce’s cover of “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse plays, as a headline appears questioning Gatsby’s massive fortune. “Where did the money come from?” Nick asks, as we see Gatsby’s mansion lit up for a party, and the ensuing chaos taking place inside.
The party continues, as Tom, Nick and Daisy arrive. Tom is there to investigate the source of Gatsby’s wealth, and Gatsby invites them to take a look around before going inside. Tom says, “You know a lot of these newly rich people are just filthy bootleggers,” but Daisy insists that Gatsby is a businessman, before Gatsby interrupts them to introduce a senator wearing a cowboy hat. Gatsby passive aggressively introduces Tom as a polo player, then gives Daisy and Tom a tour of the party. Gatsby takes Daisy’s hand and escorts her to meet a film star whom she admires standing nearby. Tom and Nick walk off together, Tom saying he’d “rather not be the polo player,” as a crowd dances and a band plays jazz music. We see Daisy leaning over a banister at the party, admiring the party, and Gatsby turns to Tom, reminding him that they met at the speakeasy and that he knows Daisy. Tom is surprised to hear that Gatsby knows Daisy, and the men are interrupted by a servant who announces the entrance of a business associate, “Mr. Slagle” but Gatsby shoos him away anxiously, whispering “Not now!”
The band begins to play a foxtrot, and Gatsby asks Tom’s permission to dance with Daisy. Tom reluctantly agrees, but he soon spots the famous film actress, and looks at her admiringly. Daisy and Gatsby begin to dance, and Daisy asks, “Was all of this made entirely from your own imagination?” “No,” Gatsby tells her, “You were there all along, in every idea, every decision.” Over Daisy’s shoulder, Gatsby spots Tom and Nick following the film actress, as Daisy tells Gatsby that his creation is perfect, “from your perfect irresistible imagination.” Watching from above, Tom wonders how Daisy and Gatsby know each other, before looking over at the seedier looking gentleman, Mr. Slagle. He assures Nick he’ll find him later, as he follows the film actress off into the mansion. Gatsby and Daisy wander off through the garden to be alone. In the woods, Gatsby approaches Daisy, touches her face, and kisses her passionately. Back at the mansion, Tom finds Nick and asks where Daisy went, before ordering another drink at the bar. As Gatsby kisses her neck in the woods, Daisy says she wishes they “could just run away.” Gatsby becomes perturbed by this proposition, and tells Daisy that that “wouldn’t be respectable.”
Meanwhile, at the party, Tom asks where Nick lives, and Nick tells him he lives right next door. The scene shifts back to Gatsby and Daisy, and Gatsby tells her that they are going to live together in the mansion in East Egg. “It’s time to tell Tom,” he tells her, as the scene abruptly shifts back to the party. A fight is breaking out between Slagle and another gentleman who has come to visit Gatsby, and they are ushered out by the servants. Tom walks away, but not before instructing Nick to tell Daisy he’s looking for her. Daisy tells Gatsby that they cannot just have fun like they used to, and Nick interrupts the couple's rendezvous. “We’re having a row,” Daisy tells Nick, “A row about the future, of the colored empires.” They are all interrupted by Gatsby’s servant, who tells Gatsby, “It’s Mr. Slagle, he’s quite emotional.” Gatsby follows the servant to deal with Mr. Slagle. Back at the mansion, Daisy waits for Gatsby to return from settling the dispute, but he never does, as the party is packed up for the night. The camera pans to an office upstairs, where Mr. Slagle gives Gatsby some sort of lecture. Later, in the car, Daisy tells Tom that Gatsby was giving her and Nick a tour of the grounds. Gatsby watches the Buchanan’s car leave from a window of his mansion, and we see Tom in the car tell Daisy, “I’d like to know who he is, and what he does, and I think I’ll make a point of finding out.” The car leaves. As the gates of the estate close, we see servants dragging a man who appears to be Mr. Slagle off the grounds and punching him in the face.
As the servants pack up the party, Gatsby looks across the harbor at the green light. Nick finds him there and gives him compliments on the party from Daisy. “She didn’t like it,” Gatsby laments, “I feel so far away from her now.” Gatsby then outlines his plan to Nick: Daisy must tell Tom that she never loved him, run off with Gatsby to her parents’ home in Louisville, and marry him there. When Nick advises him not to ask “too much of her,” Gatsby becomes upset, weeping and insisting that it’s impossible to make Daisy understand that he amassed all of his wealth for her. “Jay, you can’t repeat the past,” Nick says to Gatsby, but Gatsby is unconvinced. “Of course you can,” he says. Gatsby grapples with the memory of his past, saying to himself, “If I could only get back to the start.”
The scene transitions to a flashback of Louisville five years prior. Gatsby found himself at Daisy’s house during the war with a large group of soldiers. As we see Gatsby and Daisy spot each other for the first time across the room, Nick narrates, “his uniform hid the truth, that he was a penniless young man with only that grand vision of himself.” Daisy runs into her mother on the stairs, who scolds her for scampering, then marvels at all the officers flooding their house, all from “illustrious families.” Gatsby follows Daisy upstairs. We see Gatsby telling Nick this story on his dock, then Daisy and Gatsby kissing each other at that initial party. Gatsby stops himself and looks upward at the sky. Suddenly we see Nick’s image superimposed over an image of the galaxy as he writes, “He knew his mind would never again be free to romp like the mind of God.” In flashback, Gatsby kisses Daisy, consumed with his love for her. As the flashback drifts away, and we are transported back to Gatsby’s dock, Gatsby says, “I knew it was a great mistake for a man like me to fall in love.” He then tells Nick that he dreams of always moving upward, and that he might have been a great man if he never met and lost Daisy. As he throws a rock into the pool, Gatsby repeats, “She has to go to Tom and tell him that she never loved him.” Nick seems skeptical, but Gatsby assures him that he can protect Daisy at his mansion and says goodnight. Climbing the stairs towards his mansion, Gatsby calls back to Nick: “You’re wrong about the past, old sport.”
Wealthy excess continues to pervade the frames of the film, but now that Daisy and Gatsby are reunited, the viewer begins to see a tremor of unfulfilled sadness that lies beneath the decadence. Gatsby is overjoyed to show Daisy his beautiful home, and she marvels at it, relishing in its extravagance. Their joy reaches a fever pitch when Gatsby throws his shirts down to her in the bedroom. While she is at first elated, and the supply of beautiful, hand-woven shirts is nearly endless, the couple’s gleeful game eventually becomes too much for Daisy to bear. She collapses on the bed, and confides that it all makes her sad. While Nick and the viewer know that her sadness stems from the fact that she has missed Gatsby, and their reunion reminds her of all they could have shared in the last five years, she can only manage to connect her sadness to the beauty of the shirts. The characters are stymied in their expression of love by the immensity of their sadness, but they are also disconnected by the excesses of wealth, and the pressures that class has put on them. In Gatsby’s absence, Daisy was forced to marry a wealthy man, and even though they are overjoyed to see one another now, and Gatsby is also an exceedingly wealthy man, his displays of affection are too late.
The romance between Gatsby and Daisy is a touching one, but it is also deeply tragic. Gatsby has amassed all his wealth, purchased his house, and hosted scores of parties, with the express purpose of winning back Daisy. Indeed, he is the perfect lover for Daisy; he is committed, they share a passionate history, and Daisy is disrespected and scorned in her marriage to Tom. Even so, the two are unable to be together. Daisy understands the limits of their reunion, but Gatsby cannot bear to be torn from her. When she tells him that she wishes they could always be together, he assures her that they can. His insistence that they can deny the facts of their respective circumstances makes their plight all the more tragic. Nick narrates in this moment, “If only it had been enough for Gatsby just to hold Daisy, but he had a grand vision for his life and Daisy’s part in it.” Daisy is unable to leave Tom, in spite of Tom’s misuse of her, but Gatsby remains determined to win her back, with an obsessive and misguided single-mindedness. In this portion of the film, we begin to see Gatsby as a tragic figure, obsessively motivated to achieve the impossible by any means necessary.
Indeed, fueling Gatsby’s tragic upward striving is not only his desire for Daisy, but a grandiose ambition that proceeded her. As we learn more about his biography, we see that Gatsby was always plagued with a passionate desire to improve his status. As a child, he dreamed of wealth, denying even the authenticity of his own parentage in favor of upward mobility. The film depicts Gatsby’s drive for success and wealth as central to his temperament, almost innate to who he is. Thus, we see the lineage of Gatsby’s fervent pursuit of Daisy. While his love for Daisy is authentic, it is not an isolated event, and becomes a symbolic relationship through which Gatsby can measure his unfettered ambition and sense of self-worth. His attainment to Daisy is wrapped up in his sense of his own status as a “son of God.” As Nick narrates, “He talked a lot about the past as if he wanted to recover something…some vision of himself that he had put into loving Daisy.” Gatsby doesn’t simply love Daisy; rather, he attaches his entire self worth to her love.
Gatsby’s psyche and drive to win Daisy is further illuminated by his investment in the past. While his childhood was defined by wanting to make a better future for himself, in adulthood, Jay Gatsby wants nothing more than to go back and rewrite the past, reliving the previous five years with Daisy in his arms. He clearly has a fragile and emotional relation to his own history, as he weeps to tell Nick that Daisy is not responding quickly enough to his grand gestures of love. When Nick tries to convince him that he cannot repeat the past, Gatsby insists the opposite. Indeed, the entire project of purchasing the house in West Egg, of throwing the parties, of enticing Daisy to come to him, is an elaborate revision of his past, a way of becoming the man that he always dreamed of being, with the woman of his dreams by his side. Gatsby’s project is not simply about amassing wealth and influence; rather it is a kind of hubris, a grandiose delusion that with enough money, he can finally sculpt and control not only his fate, but also his personal history.
While Gatsby’s love for Daisy is aligned with and connected to Gatsby’s epic ambition, in this portion of the film, Gatsby also explains that his love for her is counter to his ability to achieve great things as well. When Gatsby is shown in flashback first falling in love with Daisy, he is depicted as having to give something of himself up in favor of love. Baz Luhrmann projects Nick’s writing across the screen dramatically as he writes of Gatsby, “He knew his mind would never again be free to romp like the mind of God.” In Gatsby’s eyes, falling in love with Daisy means surrendering his own grandiose vision. Additionally, at the end of Gatsby’s story about his falling in love with Daisy, he tells Nick, “I knew it was a great mistake for a man like me to fall in love. I’m almost 32. I might still be a great man if I could forget that I once lost Daisy Buchanan.” This sentiment is one of Gatsby’s chief contradictions; while he attaches all of his worth to Daisy and it has made him a wealthy man, he cannot help but feel that his love for her has also limited his grand visions for himself.