The Great Gatsby
Directed by Baz Luhrmann, 2013
John: I have read the book at least a half dozen times. It is my favorite. And to be honest I went to this, half-expecting a failure, or nice try, like the Robert Redford/Mia Farrow earlier adaption. This one is spectacular. And even taught me something about the book.
Spanky: Not really surprised, as you were a fan of Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, which gave me a headache. Toby Maguire proves an inspired choice as Nick Carroway and he gets us through the preliminary stuff, where Daisy and Gatsby are pretty much mannequins.
John: DiCaprio comes alive in the conflict with Tom Buchanan. I expected that from the book. And Carey Mulligan, as Daisy, is fine. What I didn’t expect was to be emotionally moved by expected lines, such as Gatsby’s introduction against a background of George Gershwin, his comments on the past, the conclusion of the movie (and the book).
Spanky: I agree. Luhrmann has a respect for the original that should be acknowledged. What he does with special effects heightens what is there, makes it cinegraphic, it doesn’t compete or take away from the Fitzgerald classic. On the contrary.
John: In fact there are two things which actually helped me with the book. First, the movie focuses on Gatsby’s obsession with the past―his desire to re-invent it in light of his new wealth. Nick thinks this an unbridled optimism and I have to admit on the surface, I thought it was what the Midwest had over the rich, East Coast―and the reason Nick (as Fitzgerald) goes back to Minnesota in the end. But through the movie I see, Gatsby is being almost as unreasonable as Buchanan. Which leaves us, where? On to “point two.”
Spanky: I have to say, as a dog, “point one” didn’t mean much. Live in the “here and now” people!
John: Luhrmann does change the story to the extent that he has Nick writing a book about this as part of his psychiatric treatment. In the original he is a narrator who appears only as a kind of bookend commentator. So my “second point” is, how does art (writing specifically, but movies too) bring about a catharsis of our feelings. If Caraway’s admiration of Gatsby has led him to seek mental help through writing in rehab, then we need to ask how the story should be accepted, by us, if not on its own terms. That is profound and doesn’t accept easy, one sentence answers. But it is what great art does. It’s what makes this book a classic. It’s what lifts this movie above the realm of entertainment.
GO, GO, GO, GO (4 GOs out of 4)
Spanky: Let me think about this some more, but on the basis of your reaction, I’d advise:
BARK, BARK, BARK (3 BARKs out of 4)
PS When John originally wrote this he was thinking of Gatsby, himself, possibly Nick Caraway, but a few days later he realized that the theme applies to all of us. Writers really do live twice, once when they experience something, a second time when they write about it. Fitzgerald’s book allows us to internalize, personalize this message. As does the movie. That takes a certain confidence in the reader/viewer. But the payoff is the work becomes theirs, not the writer’s or the director’s. It is the genius of both the book and now the film to direct us toward that, yet let us do it. We become the artist. Or discover that we have been one all along.