The Great Gatsby is a novel set in the booming, alcohol-fuelled 1920’s in New York. It follows Jay Gatsby, a newly rich man from humble beginnings who clings to the American dream with irrevocable grip and attempts to reign in the love of his life once again: beautiful but destructively self-seeking Daisy. The narrator, Nick Carraway, is the restless observer come millionaire matchmaker who brings the, as it turns out, not-so-star-crossed lovers into each other’s paths again. Following Luhrmann’s recent adaptation Gatsby hype has gripped the nation.
His depiction is colourful and decadent, magical and indulgent, and, in many ways, the words of the novel come alive before your eyes. Literally, they do, as the original novel’s prose is tapped out on a typewriter by narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire). Also, Leonardo Di Caprio materialises the figurative Gatsby which has lived in my head for the past five years. He cinches perfectly Gatsby’s delicate blend of enigma and vulnerability.
However, by many of the most well regarded critics the spectacle was not well received. They well and truly put poor Baz on the naughty step!
Here are a few snippets:
- The Guardian wrote, ‘writing about Baz Luhrmann's Gatsby in relation to F Scott Fitzgerald's prose, is like trying to describe a gorilla playing with a Fabergé egg. There it is, this great hairy, wild-eyed beast, stomping, roaring, thumping its chest. It neither knows nor cares about the delicate beauty it holds in its mattock hands.’
- The Telegraph wrote: ‘One has the mournful sense that not only has Luhrmann plucked a lily, gilded it, and studded it with Swarovski crystals, but in the process that it has lost a great deal of its distinctive scent.’
I would agree that some of the subtlety of the prose is lost with such an ‘in-your-face’ production. However, these reviewers assume that Luhrmann wanted to make the moving picture an exact mould of the original novel. But, surely it’s natural that such an established director would want to make his mark? It’s unsurprising that the reviewers disagree with Luhrmann’s distinct depiction because this is exactly what canonical works invite - varied and multileveled interpretation which differ vastly between people. The film is simply one interpretation of this timeless classic. The broadsheet reviewers seem to forget this.
Thus, though I too, at first, felt fear that the creative Godzilla that is Luhrmann might trample over my beloved Gatsby, I realised I should view the film and the book as two different forms of artistry. The book is something delicate and intricate, inviting interpretation, almost teasing us with its mystery, whilst the film lays bare one person’s spectacularly loud, colourful and frankly, genius, interpretation. I have to say I love them both and The Great Gatsby is ‘great’ whatever medium it comes in.