I wasn’t excited when I first heard that The Great Gatsby was being made into a movie. That was last year. I had no intentions of seeing it and thoughts of re-reading the book was far from my mind. I didn’t even consider listing it on my Classics Challenge book list. That all changed a few weeks ago when I saw Iron Man 3. While waiting for the movie to start, sporting my 3D glasses over my prescribed lenses, I watched a preview of Gatsby. Being in a good mood, I got caught up in the music for the movie and the glimpses of glitz that await those who choose to watch. But what really pulled me in was the party scene. After a brief glimpse of that scene, I decided that I wanted to watch the movie so I could vicariously live through those who attended Gatsby’s massive parties.
I hate watching the movie version of a book prior to reading the book since parts are usually left out and the movie version is usually a poor remake (except The Princess Bride.) So I decided to re-read The Great Gatsby. I loathed doing this at first since I hated the book when I first read it in high school. I did not understand the story, I could not relate to the characters, and I found it hard to believe that anyone could consider it a “Great American Novel.” To my teenage self, The Great Gatsby did not define all that America is or was so it shouldn’t be considered a “Great American Novel.” (I still think so.)
But this time I’m older so maybe, I thought, the book would not be a total bore. And it wasn’t! First of all, I read an old copy of the book. A copy that was published in 1925 (it’s my dad’s friend’s of a friend’s). Anyway, I found this to be totally cool simply because the book is old and falling apart and was published in 1925. Silly, I know, but I was thrilled by these irrelevant details. Old books are always cool except when you find droppings in them or a spider crawls out.
Anyways, I began reading and was quickly swooped into the story. This time I enjoyed reading The Great Gatsby and told anyone who would listen how wonderful the book was. I didn’t like it for its story, which was okay, but for the use of language and imagery. I would read certain passages over and over again either to sound out the words used or just to recreate an image in my mind—like when we first meet Gatsby or in chapter three when Nick Carraway describes Gatsby’s parties or when Carraway sees Gatsby reaching out to the green light.
Fitzgerald’s words pulled at me and I could not help wondering at the glitz and lavishness of the nouveau riche whom reside on West Egg. I wanted to experience Gatsby’s parties and see for myself just how out-of-hand his attendees got. I know they were all totally wasted, especially Owl Eyes, and felt as if they were winning, well, Gatsby did.
Poor Gatsby sold himself to his dream and was left empty with nothing in return. He was willing to give up everything for Daisy but in the end, she refused to leave the security of her husband’s wealth for Gatsby’s love. Though Gatsby is not a good guy, I did sympathize with him for losing Daisy. I wanted Daisy to either run off with Gatsby and the two live happily ever after, or for Gatsby to forget about her and chase something else. Unfortunately, neither of those occurred. Gatsby was stuck on his dream and thus ruined by it. He should have learned when to give up.
I think Fitzgerald did a great job of showing how superficial and materialistic people can be when Carraway tried to organize a funeral for Gatsby. Though people turned out in droves for his lavish parties, none showed up for his funeral. Not even Daisy, the one he gave his life for. Overall, the book was great and, as I mentioned before, the language was beautiful and the imagery sticks in the mind. I do believe that Fitzgerald went overboard with the symbols he incorporated in the story and I believe that Daisy’s voice is never heard—she’s always cut off—except to tell Gatsby that she loved Tom as well. I guess that’s the only time her voice is needed but I do wish she could have finished some of her statements.
As for the movie, I think Baz Luhrmann did an okay job. There are some who complained that he was over-the-top in his rendition of The Great Gatsby but I think that it fits the story and the personality of Gatsby. I think Leonardo DiCaprio did great in his role as Gatsby. It was perfect. I like that the movie tries to follow the book and hints at Gatsby before finally showing us who he is. My favorite part was when DiCaprio is speaking to Tobey Maguire (Nick Carraway) and the camera slowly pans up his torso. And when he claims he is Gatsy, the camera shows his face with his great smile and fireworks going off in the background. I think the Gatsby in the book would have loved that introduction.
The actors were great and the movie went well. I’m just upset that everything wasn’t included, like the relationship between Carraway and Jordan Baker. Also, like the book, the symbolisms were overplayed. There was blue and yellow everywhere (it worked well on Gatsby’s car though) and even DiCaprio’s hair had gold highlights, which I thought was a bit much but then again, the Gatsby in the book would probably have done the same to show that he is rolling in dough.
There were other additions that were not in book such as the fact that Carraway is in a mental hospital being treated for alcoholism amongst other things. While I understand that a device was needed to tell the story, I was not totally happy with this particular frame tale. It makes sense, though, since Carraway, as well as America, is leaving the parties of the 1920s and is heading to the depression of the 1930s (Carraway turns 30 years-old towards the end of the book, around the time when he decides he’s had enough of New York and parties). Also, alcoholism would probably result from all the drinking that went on in Carraway’s East-coast life. So I guess it works.
The book was good and the movie was okay. I do recommend them both for those who are interested in classic literature or who would like to sample Fitzgerald’s poetic voice. There’s not much action in either the book or movie so I wouldn’t recommend them to those seeking simple enjoyment on a random day.
Quotes from the book:
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
“I’ve been drunk for about a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library.” (Owl Eyes, hilarious!)
“Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge,” I thought; “anything at all…” Even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder.
“I’m thirty,” I said. “I’m five years too old to lie to myself and call it honor.”
- What a High School English Teacher Thought of the ‘Great Gatsby’ Movie (theatlanticwire.com)
- ‘Gatsby’s’ Jazz-Age Excess, All Over the Screen (npr.org)
- The Great Gatsby (bookssnop.wordpress.com)
- Gatsby, What Gatsby? (kzindex.wordpress.com)
- The Great Gatsby (natteringandrambling.wordpress.com)