The Great Gatsby is … great (mild spoilers)

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books, and has been since the first time I read it in high school. (I’m sure my teacher helped with that too.) However, the film adaptations so far have not been… well, great. So when I heard that they were doing yet another, I was indifferent. That is, until I heard that Baz Luhrmann was the director. You might remember him as the director of Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge. Both are visually stunning movies, and since Gatsby is a very visual book, I thought it would be a good fit.

I was not disappointed. All the imagery of the book, like the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock and the all-seeing eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, were portrayed excellently and poignantly. And, because this is a Baz Luhrmann movie that features stylized parties, well, those were just damn fun. Yes, the soundtrack features modern songs, but that’s what Baz does and I didn’t let it bother me to hear Will.I.Am or Beyonce in 1922.

The acting didn’t impress me one way or another. I am a fan of Leonardo DiCaprio, and I think he played Jay Gatsby well. Not outstanding, but well. Carey Mulligan is just adorable as Daisy, and if anyone in this movie was to be nominated for an Oscar*, it would be her. Elizabeth Debicki was wonderful as Jordan – she was described in the book as “balancing an invisible teacup on her chin” and I definitely thought that she took that sentence to heart. Many of the other characters, such as Myrtle and Tom, were not as I pictured them at all, but obviously Baz and I are allowed to have different interpretations and there is nothing wrong with that. As for Tobey Maguire as Nick, well, I’ve never been impressed with his work one way or another. I’ve never jumped out of my seat and yelled “YES! Now that is a role that could only have been played by the dude from Pleasantville!”  I was indifferent towards his portrayal of Nick; he did a fine job, but it didn’t leave me marveling in awe.

As for the story, I’m really trying not to nitpick. I realize that film and books are completely different media, and one does not translate to the other. However, I am biased because as I mentioned, it is one of my favorite books, and I re-read it just the day before seeing the movie. Overall, it was a pretty good adaptation. There were a few minor differences (again, fresh in my mind) but no key scenes were deleted. There was a framing story of Nick telling his story to a psychiatrist and eventually turning it into a book, and we see that the character is listed as depressed, alcoholic, and a few other things. Seems to me that they tapped F.Scott Fitzgerald for that inspiration, rather than the character of Nick Carraway. The book and movie both mention that Nick had only been drunk twice in his life, so apparently some liberties were taken with Nick’s character after [SPOILERS] Gatsby’s death. That’s ok.

They did leave out a throwaway line from the book that I always find amusing. Jay is telling Nick “the truth” of his life while they are in the car at the beginning of the story and he mentions his parents were “wealthy people from the Middle-West.” Nick asks where in the Middle-west, and Jay replies “San Francisco.”
Speaking of scenes that make me chuckle that weren’t in the movie – when Nick is leaving his first Gatsby party, Owl Eyes crashes his car. He is so drunk that he doesn’t realize that the tire has literally separated from the car, and keeps mumbling that he is out of gas. The movie touched on it with one sentence in the background, but the scene in the book was quite a bit longer and funnier. It’s not essential to the plot, but I enjoy it.

HERE BE SPOILERS: (kinda)

The one thing that I felt would have added to the movie in a substantial way was the very end of the book, which was not included. Gatsby is murdered, and Nick is left to plan the funeral and such all by himself. The film mentions that Nick was “all <Gatsby> had,” but the book shows the lengths that Nick has gone to find somebody – anybody – that will show his respects. The few people he does manage to get a hold of all decline or ignore Nick’s pleas, and Nick becomes increasingly distraught over letting down his friend, ironically by being his only friend. Magically though, Jay Gatsby (nee James Gatz)’s father shows up, having gotten word of his son’s death. Nick apologizes for not contacting him (he didn’t know he even existed), but Mr. Gatz is too much in awe of his son’s home and possessions to notice. He is very proud that his son made something of himself, and it is not revealed if he knew just what kind of something that was. This scene shows the humanity of Gatsby – even though he had changed his name and invented a new persona for himself (that was otherwise alone in life), he still had a proud father that wept at his death, even after not speaking to him for years.

So my conclusion on Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great American Novel is that it is worth seeing. It has all the classic elements – love, mistrust, the pursuit of money (for love), death, etc.  The ending is sad, but I did not weep. (And I weep at everything.) Visually, it is beautiful. The movie does feel like a journey, and it is a journey worth taking.

*While I’m not so into any Oscar noms for acting in this movie, Costume design, makeup, and set design are definitely my picks, even this early in the season.

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