Most 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.