Anatomy of The Great Gatsby: Literary Traveler takes on Luhrmann

The Great GatsbyWhen it came time for someone to review the latest film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, we could not delegate the task.  It’s not that no one was up for the job– in fact, quite opposite– we all were.  After seeing the film, the office was abuzz with talk of the choices Baz Luhrmann made:  the influence of music, the actors’ portrayals, the drama, the spectacle, and, of course, all three dimensions.  Each staff member had a differing opinion, often times contradicting one another’s readings of  the exact same scene.  The only thing we all had in common was our zealous love for Fitzgerald’s classic novel.

So, instead of  picking names out of a hat, or a rousing game of rock, paper, scissors, we decided to try something a little bit different.  Because one review just could not do justice to, or be representative of,  the array of opinions being voiced in our office on any given day, we decided to let multiple contributors give it a go.

Our reviews run the gamut, from the effusive praise of LT founder, Francis McGovern, who may himself be a modern-day Gatsby, to team members Jess and Amanda, who saw the film together, with a movie-going experience (and subsequent reviews) akin to the two curmudgeonly gentlemen heckling The Muppets from a theatre balcony.

So, do we give this newest Gatsby adaptation the “Green Light” (on a scale of 1-5)?  Join us as we dive in to Luhrmann’s manifestation of Gatsby’s world, for better or worse.  And often times, both.

Francis McGovern, Founder, 5 Green Lights

” It’s all for love.”

The film made me fall in love with the book again, and I read it again before seeing the film.  I read it many times as a young man and English Major, who tried to find his Daisy, and found her.  She was the most beautiful woman I had ever laid eyes upon, and yet she was seeing a rich asshole from Chicago, and I was poor dreamer from Boston trying to be a writer.  But I won her heart, because my love was stronger, and maybe she was a little better than Daisy, and things worked out for me, but only because I didn’t have to give her up.

Despite the personal connection that I can’t shake from my mind, trying to be objective, if that’s possible, I would say the new film is a powerful and amazing interpretation, and that a novel is a novel, and a film is a film —  and where adaptations are concerned, the two must meet in the middle.  You can’t repeat one as easily as the other, just as you can’t repeat the past. Unless of course you suspend your belief in reality, like Gatsby did.  Read more.

Amanda Festa, Managing Editor, 3 Green Lights

“Sign me up for the Jay Gatsby action figure.”

I get that Luhrmann is an over-the-top kind of guy.  And, as a genuine fan of much of his work, I have the right to say:  Being known for over-the-top antics does not necessarily mean they will be successful every time. You can’t throw shiny objects at an audience and expect us to overlook everything else.  In a culture where everything has to be franchised and packaged to sell, the riskier move would have been to make a subtle, nuanced Gatsby.  But hey, that’s just my opinion.  Sign me up for the Jay Gatsby action figure and let me know who’s signed on for the sequel.

Ultimately, one has to ask, aside from the opulent parties (the convenient product placement for Moet, the who’s who of hip hop-stacked soundtrack, and cool flapper couture by Prada), should the deeper emotional text of the novel and characters so full of sadness, cynicism, and nostalgic angst be represented in such over-the-top, exaggerated, and commercialized ways? I am undecided, because there are moments throughout the film when I think Leonardo DiCaprio nails it, and then there are times when over-the-top spills into the messy gray area of caricature.  Sometimes this jarring transition occurs in the same scene.  One moment I am wrapped up in the sadness of his illusion, so perfectly captured by a look or subtle glance – and the next,  he dips towards manic, portraying Gatsby a little too cartoonish to do him justice.  Read More.

Jessica Monk, Contributing Editor, 2 Green Lights

“The whole merry-go-round hinges on their dreams”

Baz Luhrmann turned Gatsby’s mansion into a disorienting paradise of parties, cocktails, and jazz, a never-ending dance that revolved around the figure of Gatsby in a swirling mill of rumor, envy, and fantasy. But the problem that monarchs have with the world revolving around them is that, since the whole merry-go-round hinges on their dreams, nobody can – or dares – to tell them the truth, whatever that is. I suppose this is the point of Luhrmann’s maximalism: to depict a world of sycophantic dependents, as numerous as jasmine blossoms and as temporary as champagne bubbles, who will melt away as soon as their monarch comes to grief. While I recognize and applaud this attempt to realize the novel, I am sorry, but I’m going to have to be the one to rip that needle off the gramophone: Gatsby was a flop.

It doesn’t mean that the film isn’t worth seeing: there’s much more to say about the work of a director who is so ambitious that even his mistakes are worth watching. And I’m not talking ambition in the Christopher Nolan sense, where the conceptual is stretched unconvincingly across a studio scaffold – (hint: I’m not a Christopher Nolan fan). I’m talking about Baz Luhrmann’s ambitious way of mobilizing the whole hierarchy of the crew to produce movies maximalist in all aspects of their production: from the all-star soundtrack (Jay-Z, Lana Del Rey) to the costumes (Prada) and the choreography of the parties. Fitzgerald’s sliver of a novella was voluptuously out of control in the hands of Baz Luhrmann; it is abundantly beautiful, it is lost, it is Daisy.  Read More.

Caitlin O’Hara, Editorial Intern, 3.5 Green Lights

“…glittering bass beats to lure us towards the edge.”

In Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, shiny cars move like cartoons through the lush greenery of the Eggs; even the natural world is dripping in excess.  His valley of ashes spins with so much hot, dirty dust that if you see the 3D version, as I did, you may be tempted to cough. And Gatsby himself, with his “tan skin” which was “drawn attractively tight” on his face – an unforgettable detail from the book – is noticeably, almost laughably, accurate.

The film is as visually excessive as promised – loud and colorful, set to a backdrop of perfectly-coordinated glitzy costumes, CGI scenery, and hip hop music.  We know what we are getting, to some extent, when we buy a ticket to a Luhrmann film.  Yet, the novel is so heartbreaking — not only in spite of, but because of, the excess — that I wondered whether Luhrmann would succeed in capturing Fitzgerald’s nuance of tragedy within opulence.  Or would it just be one big party, with a twist at the end?  Read More.

Jack Callahan, Editorial Intern, 4 Green Lights

“Owl Eyes is tipsy in the library, just as he should be.”

Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby, the most recent attempt to capture F. Scott Fitzgerald’s roaring account of consecration and corruption on screen, tries too hard to, in the words of Gatsby, “keep going up.”  While Fitzgerald enthusiasts will be pleased that the director adheres closely to the plot, and the average movie-goer will get their $8.50 worth of extravagance, by the time the credits roll, a distinct feeling that, as Fitzgerald put it, “what foul dust” preyed on Gatsby may have preyed on the film as well.

Fitzgerald aficionados will doubtless quibble over small details, like the color of Jordan’s hair or the noticeably warmer friendship between Carraway and Buchanan, but all in all they have little to be angry about. As adaptive as Luhrmann’s film is, it is adapted almost entirely within Fitzgerald’s original framework. Owl Eyes is tipsy in the library, just as he should be, and Jordan Baker is every bit the delightful flirt she was on the page.  Read More.

Ali Pinero, Editorial Intern, 3.5 Green Lights

“A very, very solid attempt, old sport!”

After seeing the latest adaptation of The Great Gatsby, I left the theatre with a mix of emotions. I felt depressed as poor Gatsby lay dead in a red pool of regret and lost hope. I also felt happy and relieved that I didn’t hate Baz Luhrmann’s creation as I had initially predicted I would when I first heard they were making such a film.  I imagined it would be impossible to make a movie accurately depicting the complex characters and emotions found in such an outstanding work of literature. For the most part, however, I found things to applaud throughout the film, with only one or two small Baz kills interrupting my state of joy.  Read more.

Jamie Worcester, Editorial Intern, 4 Green Lights

“A little party never killed nobody.”

For those who have yet to watch the newly released 2013 spin on this beloved novel, be aware of who the director is. Baz Luhrmann, famous for directing such hits as Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, certainly utilizes his imagination to deliver something incredibly unique to his audiences. Luhrmann’s theatrical approach is indeed ambitious; his rendition relies on over-the-top decadence, A-list stars, and visually stunning effects to appeal to the fans. Although the movie fell short at times, it undoubtedly exceeded my own expectations. My advice would be to go into it with an open mind, taking with you an understanding that this film is the director’s creation and not simply a reproduction.  Read more.

 Literary Traveler Rating:  3.5 Green Lights  

See it for yourself, and let us know which contributor you most agree with — or share your own opinions in the comments section.

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