A spoiler-laden discussion of Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby.
WARNING: Do not read this if you don’t want the movie or book to be spoiled for you. This discussion gives stuff away. While I discuss what like like and don’t like about the film, it is NOT a movie review.
I went into Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby with lowest expectations. I knew I would probably hate the feeble attempt to retell one of the greatest American novels ever written (if not the greatest). But my mom wanted to see it so I went with a scowl on my 3D glasses-adorned face. When the movie started I thought I can be okay with this and just try and enjoy it if Luhrmann stays true to the integrity of Fitzgerald’s story. At the opening scene I was already furious.
I hated the way things seemed to happen TO Nick instead of just happening around him, they sort of made him the protagonist in a way that really violated the nature of the original story. The movie opens on Tobey McGuire as Nick Caraway in the office of a therapist at a posh-looking sanitarium. The exterior looked like one of those places they film ghost-hunting reality shows. The interior looked like how they portray Harvard and snotty prep schools in the movies. The therapist is looking at Nick’s rap sheet. Depression. Anxiety. Fits of rage. Alcoholism. WHAT?! This makes no sense at all. This never happens in the book. Everyone forced through the American school system knows this. Occasionally throughout the film it cuts to scenes of him with a mangy looking beard frantically pounding away on a old Remington typewriter or passed out next to scattered pages. These scenes looked stolen from The Shining. I imagined Tobey McGuire looking in a mirror and seeing a homicidal Jack Nicholson grinning back at him, stroking a pickaxe.
Why does this never happen in the book—because Nick isn’t the protagonist. It doesn’t matter what happens to him. At the end of the book he just essentially tosses up his hands and goes back to the Midwest where he came from. He certainly was never an alcoholic. Nor did he ever suffer a fit of rage. The fact that a therapist was analyzing him and assigning him all these different afflictions violates the integrity of the book. Nick is the narrator, he’s not the point.
The next terrible thing that Baz Luhrmann did to ruin Gatsby was give the audience too much information. The thrill of Gatsby was that he was so full of mystery. When guests filed into his West Egg palace they didn’t know who owned the place or what he did. And there was a joy to that, the thrill of the own know and the fun of composing a new version of truth. In the book Fitzgerald lays out heavy-handed hints to give the audience the information they need to know.
Baz, on the other hand, felt the need to explain every symbol in the story. Tobey says something like “Those eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg watched over them— like how God watches over people!” I understand that movie-goers grow dissatisfied when a film deprives them of some information. But seriously it’s The Great Gatsby. Everyone should know that the eyes of Eckleburg symbolize the watchful eyes of God. I can’t be the only one who had to write a paper about this in high school. By filling in too many blanks Luhrmann deprives the audience of the experience to create a unique version of the story.
The only thing that exceeded my expectations was Jordan Baker, played by the unknown actress Elizabeth Debicki. To me she perfectly depicted a fantastical, Luhrmannesque version of Jordan. She acted well and really suited the part. I can’t really say anything else positive about the movie.