If you’ve been reading the blog, or you’ve had a conversation with me since I was in the 11th grade, there is a good chance you know that I love The Great Gatsby. I consistently advocate for it as “the great American novel” and if I could get away with it would only wear pink tailored suits and call everyone “old sport”.
While I’ve been disappointed by past attempts to translate the novel into film, it would be an understatement to say I went into the movie theater this morning wanting to like this movie. I went into the theater wanting to LOVE it. And this morning I got exactly what I wanted.
The icing on my Gatsby cake was that I was the only person in the theater. Going to the movies alone can be both empowering and a little sad. But having a private viewing of Gatsby felt very glamorous. I sat directly in the middle of the theater, put on my 3-d glasses, and pictured myself dancing the aisle. From the opening scene, I was too transfixed to get up and dance (until the ending credits when I did a mean Charleston in celebration).
Fitzgerald is known for being a brilliant editor. Every word in Gatsby matters and adds to the experience. Similarly, every moment of the film was significant to the story, as well as being both visually and musically beautiful and interesting.
Luhrmann creates a pastiche if different styles of film styles, alternating between crisp 3-d and shots that look like they were film decades ago, in the same way jazz and hip hop are mixed together. Lana Del Rey’s Young and Beautiful weaves throughout the film – a favorite moment is when at one of the party’s it is turned into a fox trot. These modernizations help the film from becoming a costume drama and highlight the exciting newness of the 1920s. I loved the way contemporary party behavior snuck into the film: when they take selfies at Tom and Myrtle’s apartment for example.
Where I think this film succeeds is that it does not attempt to view the story through a realist lens. It treats the story of Gatsby and Daisy as the fantasy it is in the book. Glitter is everywhere. The strong symbolism in the book is not brushed under a rug, but amplified. The gang is all there with the green light, Daisy’s white curtains, Nick’s clock, Gatsby’s shirts, and good old Doctor T.J. Eckleburg. These ethereal, “larger than life” moments do not detract from the films humanity. Strong acting allowed me to relate with Gatsby, Nick, Daisy, and even Tom on several occasions.
The addition of Nick’s scenes in the sanitarium is slightly hokey, but I was pro because this allowed the story to be told as a fantasy. A layer of meaning is added because we see Nick idealizing his summer with Gatsby, the same way Gatsby idealizes his courtship of Daisy. They both try to return to a time before innocence was lost: Gatsby with his house, his parties, and yes his shirts, and Nick by remembering and writing the story down. Despite proclaiming himself as a good judge of character at the beginning of the story, we know Nick is an unreliable narrator and that makes anything possible. His writing the story also allows for the prose to not just be said, but be typed across the screen. Some people might find this corny as well, but to a lover of the book it was perfect. As fantastic as the sets, costume, music, etc. were there is nothing that can make me swoon like “so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
There will, of course, be things people criticize about the film: the new Nick storyline, the 3D, the under playing of the Nick/Jordan romance. I understand these criticisms, but I don’t care. I loved the movie. I loved it for all the reasons I’ve written about at length (sorry I have a lot of feelings!) in this post, but the most important reason is that I was happy and excited the entire time I watched it. I felt the way I feel when I read the book, and it made me think about the story in new ways. What more can you ask for in an adaptation?
So friends, if you go see the movie let me know what you think! I will be anxiously waiting to hear your impressions while I listen to Lana and work on my Charleston steps.