Monday, October 14, 2013

Movie Monday: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby (2013)
Today, I am so excited to introduce a new type of post: Movie Mondays!

I recognize that few people have the time or desire to read the amount that I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list.  Luckily for you, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good movie almost as much as a good book.

You can expect two movie reviews per month, appearing on the second and fourth Mondays.  These posts will stay brief.  I am mainly interested in comparing the film with the novel - this is a blog about books, after all!

I recognize that there are multiple adaptations of many books.  I plan to take them all one at a time.

I thought a good place to start would be the big hit from this summer, Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of The Great Gatsby.  You did not have to be very attuned to pop culture to notice the buzz around this movie. When it came out at the beginning of May, news of it was all over the place.

The film stars several big names, including Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby himself.  Toby McGuire played Nick and Carey Mulligan starred as Daisy. The cast definitely contributed to the hype around the film.  

I was surprised how closely the film stuck to the book.  There were, of course, a few changes, nearly all revolving around Nick.  The most notable deviation was placing Nick as narrator from a sanitarium. Fitzgerald never confirms that Nick is the author, so to put Nick in that position and have him write from a sanitarium as a part of therapy is a bit of a stretch.  Also, Luhrmann leaves out the secondary plot of a relationship between Nick and Jordan Baker.  In the film, they only flirt. Finally, Luhrmann dramatizes the ending significantly, making it harsher and sadder than in the book.  Gatsby's father never appears at his funeral, as in the text, and DiCaprio's Gatsby dies believing Daisy is calling. Really, though, these changes are small compared to how some books get butchered.  

Luhrmann uses color throughout the film to express mood.  The parties are bright and vibrant, while the deeper, more pensive moments have a darker, more neutral palette.  The scene where Nick gets drunk for the first time was, to me, the pinnacle example of this.  The lovers' apartment is swathed in bright, red tones.  The whole scene felt very Moulin Rouge (another Luhrmann film) to me and comes across more raucous in the movie than the book.  

Luhrmann made a few very deliberate, modern choices for the film.  He used a lot of modern music on the soundtrack.  It's a little startling to hear Jay-Z being played as flappers dance the night away. I understand and appreciate why Luhrmann made this choice, but I personally would have preferred period music.  The film also used a lot of VFX effects.  In fact, the VFX supervisor for the film even put together this little video so you could see just how much of the movie was fake. Kevin absolutely hates CG effects, so he spoke out strongly against this directorial choice when we watched the movie. I am on the fence.  I understand that the effects create a world that doesn't exist and make it even more splendid and colorful than any set designer could.  Still....there really is something to be sad for real sets.  They make everything more authentic.  

On that note, I think Luhrmann did not set out to make things authentic.  In fact, I think he purposefully made some of his decisions with the intent of creating a dream-like sheen on the movie.  The glitz and glamour of the film only emphasize how crazy and fantastical the world Gatsby created truly is. Luhrmann does a wonderful job portraying that without coming right out and saying it.  Sadly, I think that symbolism was lost on most viewers, judging by the fury of articles coinciding with the film's release.  Those writing instructions on how to throw a Gatsby party simply missed the whole message.

I really enjoyed this adaptation.  Despite its slight deviations and the modernization of certain elements, I thought it was well done.  Leonardo DiCaprio only gets better and even Toby McGuire was bearable in this film.  Even if you have read the book, which you absolutely should!, the movie is worth seeing as well.


  1. I liked the adaptation a lot too, although at times it felt to me like it was staying too true to the book (like the sections with words and lines). I felt like I didn't need to be CONSTANTLY reminded that this story was based on a great book, you know? I liked the music though, I think it helped bring out the contemporary themes of the book better than period music might have. But it definitely struck a strange tone at first :)

    1. I know what you mean about the dialogue. I tend to like that. I figure that the author's words were good enough to make the book a classic. If they can work on film, I like the writers to at least try to use them.