Book VS. Movie: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s vs. Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby

Conor Kelly

Staff Writer

Book versus movie: it is one of the oldest debates in the history of motion picture.  As authors write their masterpieces, visionary directors try their best to capture the literary magic in the form of a movie.  Many a controversy surrounds these so-called “book movies,” with issues relating to contents of the movie specifically.  Tis the struggle of any director to convert 200 plus pages, of which can take hours or even days to read, into a two hour movie.  Many famous novels have seen one, if not many, adaptations to the silver screens of Hollywood.

However, what makes a book movie reach the elusive status of “acceptable”?  Is it the faithfulness to the source material?  Is it the visionary director’s ostentatious or serious visual directing?  Is it how well the message is conveyed?  In truth, there is no definitive answer.  There is no clear victor, or a pass-or-fail ultimatum; there is only consensus from the fans of the book who see the movie.

So how does one of the greatest pieces of American literature translate to cinema?  The Great Gatsby is arguably F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous work.  In 2013, director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, Romeo & Juliet) revived the debaucherous tale of the elusive Jay Gatsby and his never-ending struggle to obtain the one he loves.

Since its debut in May 2013, the all-powerful internet critic sites have given the movie a mixed review (55% from Metacritic, and 48% from Rotten Tomatoes).  What went “wrong” that brought down the revitalization of the 1922 novel in Luhrmann’s eyes?  One thing was for sure: it was not content.  Luhrmann’s adaptation is nearly word-for-word from the book, the plot identical with no visionary corners cut.  All of the critical moments from Nick’s arrival to West Egg to his final moments with Gatsby are preseGatsby article pic 2nt in full form, keeping the critical themes of The Great Gatsby communicated quite well.

Anyone who has read the book should know one thing exists that may have been hard to communicate with cinematography; The Great Gatsby is mostly communicated through internal dialogue.  Luhrmann knew that if he just sat Nick in the movie constantly thinking exposition to him, the movie would be an absolute drag and a total failure.  His solution?  One of the most inventive decisions in cinema to this day.  The major “thinky” bits of the movie are Nick recalling his times in New York to a therapist through writing down his experiences in a therapy session in an asylum.  This decision kept Nick’s internal monologues alive and prominent without making it dreadfully boring.  On top of that, it also was effective to show the trauma that Nick experienced during his times in New York, adding another dimension of sorrow to the tale.  In the end of the film, it is revealed that Nick’s writings were compiled and that he was the author of The Great Gatsby.  This was a careful, but interesting decision on Luhrmann’s part, one that may have saved the movie’s career.

Although Luhrmann (in the bonus features of the movie) prided himself on his accuracy to the book, the masses were upset about something not seen, but heard.  The majority of criticism that goes into the movie is Luhrmann’s choice of using well-known artists such as Jay-Z and Lana Del Ray to write more modern-sounding songs for the move, with Jay-Z’s raps even being incorporated into the score of many important scenes.  F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote the novel to take place in the “Jazz Age,” a term he himself coined, so the infidelity to something Fitzgerald created irked fans.  However, Luhrmann did not make this decision without careful thought; in fact, his films are known for their wonderful scores, Moulin Rouge winning an Oscar for best original song in a movie (2001 Oscars).

So why rap?  Why would Luhrmann incorporate a controversial style of music into a movie known for its time period of swinging beats?  There is one simple but genius answer to this.  When jazz was first coming into its right, it was an intensely controversial form of music, especially since many jazz artists were African American.  In order to communicate that secret heresy that jazz music was while keeping his audience absorbed in the tale, Luhrmann incorporated rap into the music of the movie.  This was yet another effective decision made by the director, again keeping the movie relatable to audiences in America.

In the end, was Baz Lurhmann’s The Great Gatsby a flop?  Even though many people had a strong distaste for the movie, a strong alliance of movie critics enjoyed the film, creating its swirling whirlpool of mixed reviews.  However, this is an issue left up to personal opinion.  What the viewer thought of the film in relation to the book is the most important detail of all.  If there remains any confusion at all regarding opinions about the movie, the professional recommendation is to just see the movie!  Sometimes there is a gem hidden under all of the negativity.

 

 

Comments

  1. My expectations were pretty low considering all the negative reviews floating around. I watched the Robert Redford/Mia Farrow again before going to see this version. I read the book years ago. I have to say that I LOVED this film! I think Di Caprio and Maguire were both excellent…Mulligan better than Mia Farrow but still not great in my view. I was expecting the music to be very off base but it just worked beautifully. Cinematography was wonderful, the set scenes gorgeous. Critics need to get a real job….try making a move themselves.

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