Image Of course I wanted to see The Great Gatsby on opening night, but my schedule prevented it — so I saw it Saturday night. (NOTE: Possible spoilers here). I was eager for it, loved hearing Baz Lurhmann’s interview with Scott Simon on Morning Edition:  It seemed that Lurhmann “got” Fitzgerald.  I loved what he had to say about his music choices, his reasons for using 3D, so I went eagerly, excited for the over-the-top effects and visuals.

I didn’t love it.  But I did like it and was/am intrigued by it.

I’m still trying to sort out my reaction, and I’m sure I’ll see it again (I have promised students and alums of my American Lit class that we can go as a group and see it together, hang out afterwards and discuss).  So, here are my thoughts on viewing # 1 —

  • Leonardo DiCaprio did well by Gatsby.  It’s tough when Robert Redford is forever the image that comes to mind when I think of Gatsby, but DiCaprio handled the role well, exuding both charm and vulnerability.  He captured the essence of inelegant roughness, too, that Nick describes.
  • Loved the music.  I especially loved the mix of hip hop and jazz, the lone sax player on the fire escape playing over the soundtrack.
  • I think Lurhmann did, in fact, “get” Fitzgerald. I think Fitzgerald’s novel came through in this version much more intact than in the 1974 version.  One aspect of the 3D production that I did like was the superimposing of Fitzgerald’s words right onto the screen.  I’m interested to see how that works in the non-3D version.
  • Of course, I love that Nick recites the entire last paragraph of the book, including the famous last line–something that was missing entirely from the 1974 version.  Here, though, the focus is on Gatsby himself and his hope — not so much a linking of Gatsby’s hope with the newfound America. Lurhmann’s Gatsby captures the essence of the American Dream story in a much more satisfying way than Jack Clayton’s version with Robert Redford, which to my mind was simply a love story that missed the boat about the true essence of the novel.
  • Presence of African American dancers at Gatsby’s party and in the “valley of the ashes” (in addition to being waitstaff and witness to Tom Buchanan’s racist diatribe) added a lot of the right touch and atmosphere. Few, if any, African Americans in the older version, minus the witnesses to the accident.
  • The famous “beautiful shirt” scene — nicely done!
  • Visually, the movie was wonderful.  Costuming was gorgeous!
  • Loved the emphasis on the green light!

What was missing…?

  • Didn’t like Tom’s character.  I mean — I know you’re not supposed to like Tom…but I mean, I didn’t like the way he was portrayed — he came across as much too rough for an upper-crusty type guy — though his bullying did come through.
  • OK, I don’t think I liked Carey Mulligan’s Daisy, either.  There was definite chemistry between her and Gatsby — that I liked a lot; the scenes with the two of them were lovely to see — but I didn’t always understand her line delivery.  Her tone seemed “off” somehow to me. She came across as flat, unengaged. It would have worked with the “Sophisticated–God, I’m sophisticated” line, but she didn’t speak that line!
  • Didn’t like Jordan Baker.  She was as unappealing in this version as she was totally appealing in the Redford version.
  • The party scene with Myrtle in the NY apartment — didn’t like it.  It came across as stylized, clownish to me.  That might have been Lurhmann’s intent, I don’t know– but for me, it didn’t work. In this movie, we don’t get to know Myrtle’s character at all.
  • In fact, all the party scenes, including the ones at Gatsby’s, were lacking I thought. One of the things I loved about the 1974 version is the dancing and party scenes. I thought those moments really captured the 1920’s perfectly.  In this version, there certainly was excess, but I don’t know — there was something missing for me.  Maybe I expected them to be even more over the top.
  • Plot-wise: didn’t like that Tom tells Wilson at the scene of the crime that Gatsby is (he thinks) the offender.  You miss some of the dramatic tension as Wilson heads out from valley of the ashes to go find Myrtle’s killer.
  • I thought 3D was largely unnecessary.  I think I’ll watch it in regular “2D” next time so I can compare the two, but the 3D was distracting to me — except for the words on the screen.
  • Gatsby never says “Her voice is full of money.”  I kept waiting for that!
  • And finally — Nick in the sanitorium — dunno…I found it unnecessary.  Why couldn’t he have been back West writing a book?  Why put him in a sanitorium? I didn’t see the need for that.

I loved that Lurhmann’s intent (per his interview with Scott Simon on Weekend Edition Saturday a week ago) was to produce for his viewers an effect similar to the one readers of The Great Gatsby might have encountered in 1925.  I loved what he had to say about his inclusion of hip hop music, about Fitzgerald’s interest in pop culture and movies and the most current technology — hence 3D.  I’m not sure what I might have thought about the movie if I hadn’t gone in with Lurhmann’s words in my head, however.  So ultimately, I think it’s an interesting addition to the Gatsby movies and lore.  I’d recommend it to Gatsby lovers-worth a viewing for sure.

1 thought on “THE GREAT GATSBY

  1. Cindy

    I love it! Love to hear your perspective. I do think the Saxophone player you refer to is a trumpet player! I totally agree about the 3D – I really like the use of 3D for the words popping out at us, but the rest of the movie – 3D not so much!


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