Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby of you already know that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is my favorite novel. I’ve made a custom out of reading it once a year, so I just had to go see the movie on the night it premiered here in Constanta.

And I wasn’t dissapointed.

Baz Luhrmann managed to produce a movie with strange qualities, most of which will appeal only to those who have read and loved Fitzgerald’s novel. When it comes to book to movie adaptations, most producers are maybe too keen to leave their own mark, to change things and show us what they see. Luhrmann shows us how this decade sees this classic novel, how our decade sees decadence and opulence and slowly peels off all the greedy, dark layers of human nature in this modern world.

But maybe Luhrmann’s biggest achievement is that he actually figured out the universal theme in story, that element which made the novel so popular to begin with. The Great Gatsby is not a story about a society, about a time period, or even about a place. The Great Gatsby is a story about one man having so much hope among the hopeless that he’s perceived as being naive.

That’s what we love about Gatsby himself, because we don’t really see people like that. So filled up with hope that sometimes they act as if they’re crazy, so caught up in the past, and yet that very version of the past is the only thing that keeps him going.

Luhrmann’s movie is comprised of a series of powerful scenes loosely tied together (when Nick first sees Gatsby, when Nick first goes to one of Gatsby’s parties, when Gatsby meets Daisy, and so on.) Of course, all these scenes are enhanced in such a way that it offers the raw emotion you felt when you first read those scenes.

That’s why I said that this movie will appeal only to those who’ve read and loved the novel, because otherwise, odds are that you’ll miss the point on the entire film.

For instance, here in Romania this novel isn’t so popular, yet the movie managed to attract quite some attention from the media and so on. Anyway. There’s this scene, the one with Gatsby throwing a bunch of shirts at Daisy. Then Daisy starts to cry. When Gatsby asks her why she’s crying, she answers by saying that she’s never seen such beautiful shirts.

Half the audience laughed at this.

They just missed the point. It wasn’t funny, absurd, or stupid. It was much more complex then they could understand, and not having read the novel, they just couldn’t get how much Gatsby wanted to impress Daisy, and how much Daisy regretted the fact that she hadn’t waited for Gatsby.

Something like that.

Maybe Luhrmann was too ambitious with this movie, and even though he managed to show us that the novel’s glory doesn’t rest solely on Fitzgerald’s prose, the movie itself has holes that we’re expected to fill up with what we’ve read in the novel. A very big gamble, which has already been criticized by movie critics.

The visuals, the acting, and all the bottles of champagne make for a really good movie. Even if you haven’t read the novel, even if you miss the point, even if Gatsby strikes you as unrealistically hopeful, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is still a good movie. Not great, but good.

And the only way for it to be great is for you to fill the holes yourself.


96 thoughts on “Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby

    • Indeed. I suppose that’s the first time you realize Gatsby did everything for Daisy. Everything he is, everything he own and buys and does, it’s all for her.

      I’d say that’s just a different kind of sacrifice, much more subtle than dying for the one you love…

        • He doesn’t actually drive her away. Daisy is just shallow enough that such devotion scares the bejeebers out of her. She’d rather have an insipid, useless life with Tom, than have any man love her that much.

  1. I asked my students who’d seen the film what they thought of it (they’ve all read the novel.) About half of them loved it, and the other half thought it was rubbish. This movie seems strangely divisive. I think I’ll go see it soon.

  2. Saw this last week. Almost didn’t because I remember seeing Gatsby with Redford and Farrow in the theater as a kid and being bored to tears, and actually remembered little of the story (besides Redford getting shot in the pool). Hadn’t read the novel before though, but still totally caught it in this film. I was riveted. Now I have the book. Personally, I was enchanted by the visuals, the way Luhrmann threw words up on the screen in such creative ways (letters as snowflakes!). Seeing Into the Darkness tonight, but Gatsby will be the one I go back to see one more time. Probably in 3D. Got to see those snowflakes again…

  3. I liked the novel, but am always turned off my Luhrmann’s style .. not sure why. Maybe I’ll give this one a try. Not sure what to like more, though, the review or the fact that you saw the movie in Constanta. I love Constanta!

  4. Love your review, man. Short, sweet and what you focused on was great to read about. Don’t know if I quite agree with the having to read the book to fully understand the movie bit, but I also haven’t read the book (I know, a crime). So what do I know. I just generally fight against such a mentality. A movie should be good even if someone hasn’t read the book. PLEASE don’t think I’m attacking you or anything. I’m really not trying to. Just giving my two cents. Will try and catch the movie soon. Cheers! :)

    • I agree – about not having to read the book, although nothing does beat reading.
      I loved the scene with the shirts. I did not laugh. I saw it purely as him letting her know how much he loved her, what he would do for her, what he would give to her……..something she had never really seen to her own admission.

  5. I loved the movie and I did understand the shirt scene even though I haven’t read the book. I will read it now, though, because I want to know the rest about these characters and the things that motivate them. :-)

    • The shirt scene was absolutely brilliant!!!! I just read the book and it either wasn’t in it or it was so subtle that I missed it. Personally, the initial pomp and hip hop beginning of the movie kind of annoyed me, but the shirt scene made it shift into a really good serious adaption of the book — diving right into the essence of Fitzgerald s novel.

  6. I don’t believe in coincidences… everything is connected. So I’m VERY interested to find out why I just watched, for the first time, the older version of The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford – last night! And here just now, after coming down from a depressive outburst of tears and confusion – I went outdoors and spoke to the trees and cried, cried, cried… then I decided I would do other things (spiritually speaking) to understand and allow this wave of emotions to flow through me and be released, but FIRST – I decided to check my email to see if anything new came up that would speak to me. And here I find your post, Cristian. By the way, I did feel the emotion of the “shirt” scene. And I would love to watch Lurhmanns’ version, especially to see the “snowflakes” of letters! And of course, the absolutely amazing Leonardo DiCaprio. SO, I don’t know what it means but I am over my own tears and will contemplate – and probably post something – about this connection. Actually, answers are coming to me now, and they have EVERYTHING to do with the movie, and probably with something that you have written that I must see. So I’ll check out some of your other stuff. Wow… blessings to you, Cristian, I pray all is well with you and I am so glad to be connected to you. You are a true artist of the soul, the only way to create anything real! Thank you, namaste’ (from one divine being to another – and all are divine!).

  7. The movie film like Luhrmann just lost the reigns, but I’m glad I saw it and will happily give anything Luhrmann does a chance. I just like a little more time and focus on the motivations, execution of character’s actions, the silly little why’s behind them and the feelings about those actions. He usually delivers this, but this time very little made it through and what did had no pulse (except Leo’s).

  8. I liked the movie, too. I liked Gatsby in the movie, thought DiCaprio was great. I think it was more self delusion than hope, though. And what do you think Gatsby had to do to get all that money, and so quickly? Don’t you think a kind of ruthlessness is implied?

    • Well, a kind of ruthlessness is implied when it comes to building great things, whether it has to do with great wealth or something else. I suppose you can only climb so high before you start pissing off people.

      • I think Fitzgerald was talking about much more than pissing people off. There may be a kind of nobility about Gatsby, but there is a dark side, too. Think of all the robber barons and what they did to amass their wealth. They were criminals, and at the same time some were seductively charismatic. F. was both attracted to and repelled by this over the top wealth, while there was also great poverty. He lets G be something of a mystery, which makes him so intriguing.

  9. I actually took my students to see it. They loved it and I’m so glad we read it this year and that I passed on my love of Gatsby. I agree, Christian, Luhrmann did not disappoint. I was ambivalent, as the other adaptations just didn’t measure up for me, but this one did :)

  10. I’m so glad you mentioned the shirt scene! I have not seen this new version, but I recall the shirt scene in the old RR version not quite conveying the power of the moment as in the book. Or maybe I was too young to appreciate it (watched it in High School English, I think, or on cable as a teen.) Interesting that the audience laughed, but the wistfulness as you convey it, is quite cutting.

  11. From someone who is eternally hopeful you have convinced me to both read the book and see the movie. I will make sure I get it this week at the library!!! Thanks Christian!!

  12. I have one question–how did Luhrman handle the music? I love “Strictly Ballroom”, loved “Romeo+Juliet”, but I found “Moulin Rouge” unwatchable because of the way he mixed modern music in a period film. Does the music fit the period?

    • He kind of does the same thing as in Moulin Rouge. It adds a sort of modern perspective on the whole “Roaring Twenties” thing, but in does take a while to get used to. Also, my opinion is that the music complements the visuals quite nicely.

      Luhrmann’s movie is rather strange, because I don’t feel he tried to accurately depict the Jazz Age. It’s more like some 2010s folks were transported back in time, and they decided to throw a party. Something like that.

    • Yes. It was kind of good, even though I didn’t like the acting very much. Overall, the movie was something like a dish without salt and pepper. It just felt like it was missing something.

  13. I loved the movie as well — LOVED it. But Daisy’s response in the astounding “shirt scene” is somewhat ambiguous, no? One could be forgiven for laughing, because of course it’s not the damned shirts she loves — yet, yet, it sort of IS the shirts, or, at least, the money they represent. We’re not exactly sure what’s going through that (mostly shallow, mostly materialistic) mind of hers. Certainly, caught up in the sensuous, romantic moment, she regrets having chosen money over love five years earlier. But does she regret her decision because she now realizes love trumps money or because she’s discovered that Gatsby is now swimming in money — so she can have her cake and eat it too? The essential answer doesn’t come until the end, where Daisy’s actions are not so ambiguous — she chooses money. Again. Poor Gatsby! — there’s that naive hopefulness — he thought Daisy was more than she actually was….

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the movie. It’s getting generally mediocre reviews and I’m bummed about that….

    • You have revealed the true tragedy of Gatsby. Gatsby has created wealth and lifestyle but only in pursuit of being good enough for Daisy. He believes that with enough wealth he can win the girl and “things will be different this time.”

      The fact is, the Daisy that he loves never really existed. I think this is why the book resonates so forcefully, it is human to project our fantasies onto others. To make them players on our stage so to speak.

      In the end the fantasy cannot overcome reality. This is the basis of many divorces. The partners do not suddenly change, but there comes a realization that they do not match the fantasy built in their own minds while they were dating (I married the man that I thought he could become.)

      Daisy is a self interested, shallow woman. Gatsby’s love for his version of Daisy, his reverence, loyalty and commitment, his obsession, is his tragic flaw.

  14. I saw this movie tonight, and I was pleasantly surprised. I never tire of reading “The Great Gatsby,” and Luhrmann nailed it — the meaning of the entire story of hope among the hopeless. Thank you for a great review!

  15. I like your perspective on this. I felt the movie was quite good, though it lacked strong plot at some points, trading in story for too much spectacle (except in the New York heat wave scene close to the end: so great!). Your insight into this really makes me want to go see the film again!

  16. I have to admit that I have not read the book and I wasn’t crazy about the movie. The acting was excellent and the set was beautiful. I just didn’t like the ending. Life is sad enough. I am one of those people who likes a happy ending.

    • I respectfully disagree with you: Life isn’t sad. It has its sad parts, yes. We grieve for people who have left for whatever reason (out-growing each other or disease or death, or any combination of such). But, overall, I find Life – in all its permutations – is quite a joyful experience.

      That said, If you understand Fitzgerald, you’d know that “Gatsby” couldn’t end any other way. There isn’t room in world for both Gatsby’s intense love for Daisy and only her, and Tom’s mostly indifferent love toward Daisy. Daisy chose to be married to Tom because she couldn’t reciprocate the kind of devotion Gatsby gave her.

      Last, I have to say that we the movie-going public – tend to insist on “happily ever after” even when sometimes the story just doesn’t support it. It’s contrived and untrue to the original story. In Gatsby, Fitzgerald stays true to the story all the way to the end. It had to end the way it did.

  17. I saw the movie today and have mixed emotions about it. I thought the casting was spot on and the visual effects well done, however, I was slightly bored and disappointed with the movie in general. I think my disappointment stems from being so familiar with the book. While I know an entire book cannot be compressed into a 2 hour movie, I all too easily pick up on the changes and omissions.

  18. I’m glad you reviewed the movie- I haven’t read many good reviews yet but I really like the book. I’m also interested in seeing how they interpreted the costumes and music of the era.

  19. I think you really pinpointed the reason I wasn’t enamored with the movie: I didn’t love the book. It was good – a solid read – but not one that I would read over again.

  20. How I love your blog. The press is saturated with reviews and articles on The Great Gatsby at the moment, but I’ve vowed to re-read the book before seeing the movie. You’ve encouraged me to finish it tonight. Loved Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge and looking forward to catching The Great Gatsby on my longhaul flight home to Ireland (from the UAE) this summer. Thank you, Christian.

  21. I’ve read it twice and I really love the style of writing and the story. We studied the novel at school. I’m looking forward to seeing the new movie. I liked the 1970’s movie version with Mia Farrow and Robert Redford a lot. The shirt scene with Mia and Robert Redford is memorable and quite beautiful but I can appreciate that many people would find it funny.

  22. I agree with your assessment. I saw it with my 3 daughters last Sunday; the two of us who’d read it loved seeing the novel brought to life. I’ve read that the characters were flat but if you’ve read the book, that’s true to Fitzgerald’s intent. My second daughter loved it just because Leo was in it. The third liked it for no specific reason. All in all I think it’s another Luhrman classic that’s definitely worth seeing.

  23. I think you read my post on Gatsby, so you know how I feel. I really wanted to see the actress’ expression for Jordon when she tells Nick they can’t be together. :D

    The shirt scene was really obvious though- Tobey’s voiceover made it obvious, didn’t it? You wouldn’t get much if you didn’t get that. The only laughs I heard were the sad nostalgic chuckles from a group of older ladies.

  24. I don’t know that the movie is the source of the divisiveness. You either liked the book or you didn’t. For me, the lack of emotional substance of the ex-pat culture makes it hard to connect with the book. I think that may have been what Fitzgerald was trying to convey and for those readers who can connect with that void, it’s a great book, but for me, willing suspension of disbelief could not happen. If these were people in my circle of acquaintance, I’d quickly find a new circle of acquaintances. Gatsby was the only one with any substance and, for me, he was too obsessed with Daisy.

  25. The symbolism in The Great Gatsby is just spectacular. You have the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg who see everything; and then there is the green light at the end of Daisy’s harbor. Even the shirts I believe symbolize something. It is all very incredibly crafted. People should definitely read the novel before or after watching the film.

  26. Glad to know what you thought of it before I go see it myself. It’s interesting to hear someone else’s perspective, especially when that someone else “gets” the book.

  27. 5 movies for the novel, 1926,49,74,2000, and 2013. That´s a lot of movies,at least one has to be great. Fitzegerald seems quite a torturous guy though. I´ll check out the movie, didn´t even know it came out so thanks.

  28. i have not seem the film, but something you wrote stuck a cord with me. The director should have made it known why the shirts were important to Daisy. A film should be great to those that have not read the book, as well as to those that have read it. If not, then the director and the writers did not do their jobs correctly.

    • It’s in the implication and interpretation. You don’t want to be spoon-fed do you? Such scenes gives you a chance to think things through. Or rather, in the case about the shirts, feel things through.

  29. Spot on review, I could not agree more. Having just recently read The Great Gatsby, it has already become a personal favorite of mine, and I really do think that Luhrman made a movie that truly captures the spirit of Fitzgerald’s story. But, like you said, people who haven’t read the book may not get it.

  30. I couldn’t agree more with you… All my friends that watched the movie hadn’t read the book before, and I felt like they missed the whole point and were overwhelmed by the opulence of the scenes. Since I’ve read the novel and loved it, I feel like I filled in all the gaps, hence it was a great movie to me. x

  31. That’s an interesting (and slightly disturbing) reaction from the audience. Strange when you’re the only one that’s in on a secret. But fun, too. I’m sure you looked at everyone with a slight condescension afterwards. haha. I absolutely love this novel. In fact, I still mourn the loss of Gatsby and a deep-seated resentment (if not full-blown hatred) of Daisy! I thought Luhrmann made a grand gesture at capturing Fitzgerald’s beauty, and largely succeeded. If anyone has read Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, do share your thoughts..

    • I started Tender is the Night. The imagery is intense so it takes some time to read. I think Fitzgerald drew a lot of inspiration for those characters based on Zelda, his wife and himself.

  32. It kills me that the audience laughed during the scene with the shirts. I was never the greatest fan of the novel, but I’ve always had a soft spot for that moment.

  33. I absolutely loved the movie. I just saw it last night. The only thing that I found bothersome was the overuse of “old sport”. Other than that…a total win for me!

  34. I’ve heard so much about the novel, that I had to go and watch this movie today. And I am still wondering in what sense Gatsby was great, and how much full of hope… these elements didn’t come out well. Some of the performances too weren’t up to the mark. Maybe I need to read the novel.

  35. I’ve always felt that what made the novel so great was the writing, and not so much the plot or characters. Fitzgerald had such a beautiful way with words that made you feel emotions deeper than the characters in the story themselves felt. Or at least that’s my opinion.

  36. I got to see this movie about a week ago and I have to agree with you on the whole review. The movie was beautiful and I really enjoyed it. Gatsby was probably my favorite book I read in high school and this review and the movie made me want to read the book all over again. It’s really sad that people in your country didn’t get that scene and that many people didn’t read the book. That was probably one of the most poignant scenes, other than my favorite line-
    “They’re a rotten crowd. You’re worth a whole damn bunch put together.”
    Gatsby should be required reading in most European countries so they could understand it. It really is lovely.

  37. I thought the movie was great. The inclusion of modern music in the movie I think was a great choice and it created a sort of nostalgic sense throughout the movie. It was truly entertaining and mesmerizing

    • theoretically, I liked the idea, but think it would have worked better had it been more a hybrid of hip-hop driving beat with jazz overtones… would have tied to the movie better and there is plenty of modern music that does this pretty well. I’m not one of the music haters, just think it could have been integrated a little better.

  38. Makes me want to read the book again before seeing it. Yes somehow most adaptations from books to screen, just miss out on some of the magic. Despite having live characters playing out in all their magnanimity, books etch the characters so much better in our minds!

    • Though the movie falls short on many points, there are times where it takes the essence of the novel and brings it to life almost better than your imagination! The, “tell him you never loved him,” scene is so powerful in the movie that I wished that Baz could have maintained that level of perfection throughout the movie — would have been one of the best movies of all time had he pulled it off. Agree completely with Christian’s assessment that it ends up being just a “good movie,” but damn! It has so many hints of the great movie it could have been! Such a near miss! Maybe Baz was too hung up on being Baz… I don’t know. I’ll see it again. :)

  39. I am a big fan of The Great Gatsby and read the book multiple times. Your post wonderfully described the appreciation Gatsby readers have for the movie. The movie does a great job of maintaining the 20s era and feel of the book while also adding a modern aspect in to make it relevant for the current audience.

  40. I absolutely loved the movie! I was a big fan of the book in the first place, but the plot was foggy in my memory and I didn’t feel any holes left over once the movie ended. I also thought the sound track was so incredibly well done! A lot of modern mixed with jazz trumpet mixed with organ music. I’ll definitely buy the soundtrack, if not the movie when it’s out of theaters!

  41. I think Luhrman’s version will go down as the most underrated book adaptation of all time. People that love and understand the novel for the most part appreciated and enjoyed the film. Those looking for a summer popcorn flick or who had just a mild interest in the book did not. I think that’s why the reviews for it have been so split. Half of Gatsby’s audience was book lovers, the other half run of the mill movie-goers. A movie critic would argue that the movie should stand on its own, but with Gatsby the source material is so important that I believe it would be impossible to create a movie version that exists as a separate entity. I personally loved it, my only complaint being that they could have shortened the running time just a bit in editing.

  42. Good review, although I don’t know that I fully agree. To add some criticism to it…To me it felt that Baz was like a kid who got to open a toy on Christmas, and then kept bashing it on the head of the faithful dog – yes, he did get the main theme of the novel, but then again he also insisted on it to the point of exhaustion (see green light). The scene with the shirts was indeed magnificent, but it was one of the few containing such a degree of subtlety. Instead, he wished to have his cake and eat it – or have the best of both worlds – using the beauty of cinematography AND the acclaimed beauty of Fitzgerald’s prose. I’m not saying it can’t be done, yet film is at its best when it’s about showing, not telling, and Nick’s voiceover detracted from that majorly; it also contributed to what felt like a dumbing down of the audience. I don’t know if it has much with having read the novel – I’ve spoken to people who have, and those who haven’t, and they all seem to have liked certain aspects of the movie, and disliked others. I definitely don’t regret seeing it, if only for the exceptional visuals, and Di Caprio’s acting, but I would personally not recommend it as a great treatment of the story.

  43. While I haven’t watched this version yet (I seldom go to theaters anymore), I’ve read the book many times over the years. I watched the Redford/Farrow version of the movie when it came out; I loved Sam Waterston’s Nick! I even had a prom dress in the sweet, summery 1920s style (not the flapper part). I’ll wait until it goes to either the two-dollar-theater or comes out in the stores.

  44. When I first read the book and the part where Daisy cries because of the beautiful shirts, I just didn’t know if I should laugh or be shocked. She was such a shallow character, I couldn’t believe how important material goods were for her. She didn’t love Gatsby’s character, but his fame and wealth, and appearance. That’s what shocked me the most about Daisy, more than the fact that she accidently kills somenone in the end.

  45. I’m 23 now, and the last time I read The Great Gatsby must have been in ninth grade when I was about 14 or 15. Now, after reading this review, I want to read the book again and then go and watch the movie. I vaguely remember what the book was about, but that part about the shirts with Gatsby and Daisy is something that I remember from a long time ago. I guess it’s time to go to a book store!

  46. Like you, I love the book. You’re absolutely right that the main theme of the book is hope, and Luhrmann gets that. What he doesn’t get, though, is that in the service of that hope Gatsby constructed an idealized image of Daisy that was vasty different from the flawed, materialistic, “careless” person that Daisy had always been. Fitzgerald wrote a tragedy about illusion and disordered love, but Luhrmann turned it into a romance in which circumstance rather than Gatsby’s or Daisy’s flaws made for the bad outcome.

  47. The Great Gatsbyyy! <3 I haven't seen the movie yet but I've been very excited to watch it the moment I heard about the new movie and of course, hoped that the movie will give justice to the book (I've read it when I was still in Grade 5, I think. And even at a young age, I've loved it!). Knowing that the movie version isn't disappointing to those who have read the book is great news. I can't wait to watch iiit. :D

  48. I’ve yet to see this film, but I certainly plan to now. To be honest, what was holding me back were the super book (and film) snobs who claim that it was terrible because A.) It;s not Robert Redford or B.) because it’s stylistically different from the novel. Basically those who scream “It’s different! I don’t like different!”.

  49. Cristian, I saw the movie last night – but I’ve never read the book. I was fearful that doing so would spoil an attempt to read it. Now, I did enjoy the film, but I only want to read the book even more. You’ve mentioned & quoted the novel in several posts, so I know I’ve got some holes to fill.

  50. Great post! I just wrote a blog about it here tonight inspired completely after watching it:( I see we both saw similar value in this movie, it is sad when you look around and feel as you are the only one seeing the beauty in something, but be happy to know you are never alone : ) I enjoy your reading your blogs, thanks for following mine, old sport ;)

  51. It’s a great way to learn about movies & learn about books that haven’t been seen or read & go & watch them & keep looking them over & over to see new things that you might have missed besides. It’s been such a long time since I have been going through email & seeing other blogs. I have been busy on a website, working on a .pdf that is for health problems & remedies that can optimize your health but not overnight at all. It takes a lot of understanding & knowledge to learn about how your body works & what problems your body is having to fix it & eating a lot of good nutritious food & accepting what your body does as it creates a new you. I read books over & over sometimes but see movies as a whole different thing as you need to remember the picture is got many descriptions in it within like 5-6 slides of a film. the way some movies are made is incredible to see when using modern technology & running film faster to speed up car chases & few other things which are put into those films. Never seen the film “The Great Gatsby” & will find it on internet or maybe Netflix for movies like that. If not, I look in places through my favorites on computer to see older movies & others besides. I do love the way you describe your thinking of this movie as it makes to be more interesting & by looking at it thinking of my own type of lifestyle that brings out its integrity. Keep inspiring us all!

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