The Great Gatsby: Baz Lurhman Remixes a Classic

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.

photo (2)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.

tom and myrtle

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.

gatsbyThe 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.”

party scene

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.

13 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby: Baz Lurhman Remixes a Classic

  1. Hmm, it’s been a while since I’ve read the book and seen the original film, but I’m nervous about this new Nick storyline but I still want to see the storyline. I’m not a big 3D fan but I bet it works well for the party scenes

    1. I thought the 3D was done really well, but I’ve talked to people who saw it in 2D and they thought the party scenes were spectacular as well. I think that is just a matter of preference. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I’d like to see this. I connect with Luhrmann’s films, especially Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge. I’d rather see it in 2D though.

  3. As we chatted in my comment section over on my blog – you already know I agree with you 100% And it’s funny because I actually was really upset years ago when I heard the movie was going to be 3D. I typically hate 3D movies. And I even thought – ok, I’ll go see it the first time in 3D but then any subsequent viewings, I’ll just see it in regular 2D. Well, let’s just say. I’m making sure ANY subsequent viewings will also be in 3D. It just brought everything to life and added a certain perfection to everyone to see them in 3D form. No complaints here on Baz’s choice to film it that way.

    And yes – Lana ❤

    1. I totally agree with you about the 3D. There were so many things I was nervous about before I saw this adaptation: the music, the 3D, the Nick framing elements – but to me they all worked! Thanks for commenting!

  4. That’s very interesting – the layers of meaning piling up on a theme of fantasy and regret you talked about. I’ve never thought too much of that Nick subplot, not in that way. I thought it was just another story telling device for convenience sake. I think you’re totally right.

    1. Thanks for commenting! I’ve been reading other reviews and something I saw pointed out that was interesting (ahhh this sentence is terrible but I’m continuing) is that in the book in chapter 3 Nick references the fact that he is writing the story down (not just telling the story) by saying something like I’ve just looked over what I’ve written. I think the ambiguity works in the book, but in the movie we need to know more.

  5. I liked reading your perspective. While I understand your points about the fantasy, that may have been what may it hard for me to love it. But I think that you are dead on about why this makes this a good adaptation–I’m now thinking about your points about the movie/story in a new way.

    I need to mull this part over.

    1. That sentence was tortured. Let me try again.

      While I understand your points about the fantasy, that may have been why is was hard for me to love it.

      1. No worries about the sentence – I totally get what you are saying. As my mother told me again and again in childhood, “that’s why baskin robins makes 31 flavors”

        Do you have a favorite literary film adaptation?

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