Editor’s Note The Great Gatsby, the novel, by F. Scott Fitzgerald is my favorite book of all time. When director Baz Luhrmann came out with his 2013 adaptation of the novel, I was anxious and excited to see it. After seeing the film, I was extremely impressed at how well Luhrmann captured the visual aspect of the novel, however I was disappointed that he didn’t pay much attention to the meaning of one of the best American novels of all time. I tried to fathom how one can illustrate the big picture of the novel but ultimately misinterpret it.
I was interested in finding out other critics'’ reviews of how well and not so well they thought Luhrmann interpreted the novel. It turns out that I wasn’t alone on my stance. Many other critics claimed that Luhrmann did an excellent job capturing the style, feel, energy and look of the novel, but failed to capture the main message. Based on other critics’ views, I learned of other ways to interpret how well and not so well Luhrmann’s film portrayed the novel. For example, one critic commented on how well Luhrmann colored the film with American blackness
regardless of whether or not it was intentional. I found his review of the film extremely intriguing that I even conducted further research on his assertion. Furthermore, not only did I develop my criteria from several critics’ reviews online, but also from my past high school english instructor, Nancy Brady. Brady dug deep into the meaning of the novel, unlike Luhrmann did in his film. From her insight, I was able to incorporate it as evidence of how Luhrmann didn’t interpret the novel well. Ultimately, critics need to understand that film directors are given a very limited
amount of time to portray a novel that takes multiple hours to read on its own. The entire plot from the novel can never be fully and faithfully portrayed in a two hour motion picture. Alexandria Troncone
The Great Gatsby, the novel, by F. Scott Fitzgerald follows the young and inspiring writer to New York to learn the bond business during the summer of 1922. Carraway’s neighbor in West Egg is a mysterious yet charming man named Jay Gatsby who is known for his gigantic mansion and extravagant parties every Saturday night. Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchannan, married to Tom Buchannan, lives in East Egg. Nick learns after going to one of Gatsby’s extravagant parties that Gatsby is a past lover of Daisy and still remains one. Gatsby believes that through Nick, he can be reunited with his love, Daisy, and be together forever from then on like he always thought it should be. Gatsby and Daisy spend time together but after a short while, Tom becomes suspicious of his wife’s relationship with Gatsby. After realizing Gatsby is in love with his wife, Tom confronts Gatsby of his love history with Daisy. Gatsby’s dream of being with Daisy again is destroyed when Daisy pledges her allegiance to her husband Tom. In the end, Gatsby is murdered because of false accusations Tom created about him.
The film, The Great Gatsby (2013), is Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby. The main cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway,Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker, Isla Fishe as Myrtle Wilson, and Jason Clarke as George Wilson. Jeremy Lebens states in his 2013 review, “The Great Gatsby Blue-ray Review”, on We Got This Covered, that Luhrmann’s intent in his adaptation of the novel was “to take the timeless classic that most consider one of the best American novels of all time, and paint a glorious world of the novel in the audience’s head.”
According to Neal Abbott in his 2012 A World Fitly Spoken blog entry, “Why The Great Gatsby Is The Best American Novel”, states the novel is the most “advanced” book on the subject of America. Abbot defines Jay Gatsby as the ideal persona of what it means to be an American, “an American Everyman.” According to Abbott, the novel is the greatest account of what it means to live as a hopeful American. In Abbott’s view, Nick’s sense of wonder on how Dutch sailors must have felt when they first saw the New World is expressed “as their dreams in this verdant and green world”. Fitzgerald portrays the green light that Gatsby stares at the end of the dock of the Buchannan house as his sense of hope of being together again with Daisy. Abbott states that “Fitzgerald ties the Dutch wonder of dreams regarding this new, green republic to Gatsby’s hope when he then tells us that ‘Gatsby always believed in the green light.’ Unfortunately, Gatsby’s hope of being with Daisy again didn’t work out.
The Great Gatsby was reimagined with an extravagant tint by the director Baz Luhrmann. According to Lebens, because Luhrmann’s films are known to be visually pleasing and exceedingly glamorous, it was no surprise that Luhrmann would direct the classic into an “epic on-screen event that absolutely must be viewed in 3D.” Lebens claims through the use of “lush photography and a general grand presentation”, Luhrmann succeeds capturing the look, feel, style, and energy of the novel. Lebens asserts that the extra attention spent on “experiencing the colors to help create a fully immersible world” is advantageous for heightening the audience’s experience. An anonymous writer with the pseudonym JLL agrees in his 2013 review, “The American Blackness Of The Great Gatsby”, on Uppity Negro Network, that the color heightened his experience of watching the film by making him feel that the color use was an actual “character” since it was presented throughout the entire film.
However, color played another important role throughout the film. According to JLL, the great use of color in the film “attempted to grasp full throttle of what it meant to come alive in the Roaring Twenties.” JLL states how the 21st century has just lived through their own Roaring Twenties, despite their recession, and is able to identify with the lavish colors of Jay Gatsby’s extravagant parties. In JLL’s view, the 21st century knows how to party from the loft and mansion parties on the East Coast to the beach parties in the Gulf Sates, to the parties in “the Hills” in Southern California. Blake Howard writes in his review, “REVIEW: THE GREAT GATSBY (Baz Luhrmann – 2013)”, on Punctuation With Graffiti, that Luhrmann is able though to capture the “sweaty jazz infused cultural melting pot of New York.” Howard notes the director’s impressive ability to translate the cultural jazz aspect of the past into modern dialect. He believes that the “jazz music of the 1920s can be seen as the predecessor to how hip hop music and culture have
been understood in the 1900s and the 2000s.” In the party scenes, tracks of Jay Z are used rather than jazz music to accomplish modernizing the past with modern artists. In addition, JLL states that the use of “contemporary hip hop beats laid down to a story taking place in the 1920s shows just how colorful the American story really is.” JLL claims that the pop/hip hop song, "Crazy in Love”, by Beyonce, adds racial diversity to the movie by adding a bit of blackness. According to JLL, in the film, American blackness is represented on all different levels, ranging from the “servants, to the typical everyday man, to the extremely well to do blacks that could afford to drive around in an open air limousine for all to see, simply enjoying life.” JLL argues that regardless if whether or not Luhrmann
intentionally portrayed blackness throughout the film, he colored this movie with American blackness.
“contemporary hip hop beats laid down to a story taking place in the 1920s shows just how colorful the American story really is”
However, because the film focuses too much on the visual aspect of the novel, it misses the main point. Howard states that the vast amount of visual energy that is literally “right in your face 90 percent of the time”, takes away from the main message of the story. Howard notes that Luhrmann, known to staying in his “filmmaking comfort zones”, used 3D visuals more excessively than he should have. Lebens states that as a result from focusing too much on the visual part of the film, Luhrmann ended up failing to capture the main point of the novel: the depiction of the American dream. Lebens is not alone on his stance that the director is missing the main point of The Great Gatsby. Will Leitch, in his 2013 review, “Borne Back Ceaselessly Into the Crap. The Great Gatsby, Reviewed”, on Deadspin, states that Luhrmann doesn’t care to understand that Fitzgerald in fact was trying to
“upend such garish indulgence, not celebrate.” Leitch writes that “adapting Gatsby just so you can recreate the party scenes is like remaking Born on the Fourth of July for the war scenes.” Luhrmann has a tendency of missing the point. According to Nancy Brady, high school instructor of English at Sacred Heart Academy, the novel is symbolic for the disintegration of the American dream in an era of “unprecedented prosperity and material excess.” Brady claims, as Fitzgerald saw it, the American dream was originally about “discovery, individualism, and the pursuit of happiness.” However, easy money and relaxed social values corrupted the American dream. In Brady’s view, the main point of the novel reflects this view as Gatsby’s dream of being with Daisy ruined because of their corrupt values and ideals. Brady notes how Gatsby tried to “instill Daisy with a kind of idealized perfection that
she neither deserved nor possessed.” In the end his dream crumbled, just as the American dream did in the 1920s does because of money and pleasure. Not only did Luhrmann miss the main point of the novel, but he also misinterpreted Gatsby and Daisy’s relationship. Leitch claims their relationship is illustrated as too “soft-focused” and romantic like they’re Romeo and Juliet Juliet rather than a “deluded cursed megalomaniacal social climber.” Dana Stevens, in her 2013 review, “The Great Gatsby A grandiose, colorful, pleasuredrenched night at the movies”, on Slate, agrees with Leitch’s view on Daisy’s character when she writes that Daisy’s performance was rather more of a “narrative conceit.” Stevens claims that instead of the innocent character Daisy plays in the film, Daisy is actually supposed to have a
“hard, narcissistic edge to her.” Therefore, Leitch argues that because Luhrmann misperceives the essence of Daisy’s identity, the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy becomes too “softfocused” and romantic. Also, Stevens staes that due to Luhrmann’s misconception of their relationship, he misses the chance to work in Gatsby’s observation that Daisy’s voice “is full of money.” Daisy cares for nothing but material items: she is the stereotypical representation of the selfish higher class. At the same time Gatsby himself isn’t so innocent either, fore he tries to impress Daisy throughout the film by proving to her how much wealth he is worth. Both are subject to materialism. Part of the reason Luhrmann interprets their relationship wrong is because he portrays their relationship for not what it’s really worth: genuine love centered by materialism.
I agree with Lebens, Leitch, and Howard that Luhrmann misses the main point but captures the style and energy of the novel. While Luhrmann does attempt to portray faithfully the plot of the story, he is distracted by his desire to wow his audience with big and bold visuals. In addition, I agree also with Stevens when she states that the director misperceives some characters and ultimately the vital relationship existing between the characters. I feel that Luhrmann again is unfocused in regards to his character’s exact identities and the way they are portrayed in the novel. While the critics I’ve discussed argue validly over how well and not so well Luhrmann interpreted the novel, I believe Luhrmann ultimately didn’t give a clear representation of the book. For example, Luhrmann leaves out the affair between Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker, a
friend of Daisy’s, that is emphasized in the novel. In the film, it is only in the beginning that they appear
together when Daisy promises to set them up. While in the novel Carraway and Baker have a short relationship and break up at the end of summer, in the film, they aren’t seen together as a couple at all. In fact, in the film at one of Gatsby’s grand parties, Jordan is whisked away from Nick by another man, but in the novel this never occurs. The issue many movies have that are based on novels is the exactness and high expectations that are not really ever met. While a novel can be read over the course of time, a movie is to be watched in a short period. The two just don’t match up. No matter how much the director tries to faithfully portray the plot of the novel in his film, it will never be as detailed and accurate as it is in the novel. It’s a matter of hundreds of pages over a two hour film.