What defines a book as a “must read?” Is it that regardless of how old it is, people still relate to the story or still care about the characters? Or is it that one influential person really liked it and proclaimed it a “must read” and people listened? One such “must read” (which for me was basically a “to-read” until I saw a movie trailer for it) was The Great Gatsby. Once I saw the trailer for the Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby, I couldn’t believe I had never read the book. It seemed like a giant party set in the context of the roaring 20’s (my favorite time in American history.) The complexity of the story seemed intriguing and I knew I had to check it out from the library. I read it in less than 48 hours and was obsessed with everything about it. I loved the characters, I loved the love story, I loved the symbolism, and I just loved the simple, yet complex feel of the work overall. I was told there was a movie version of it already made, but that it was not a great translation from page to screen. Even so, I wanted to try it out on my own and see if my new favorite novel could become my new favorite movie.
Sadly, for once I have to agree with the critics. From the moment I started watching the movie, I automatically felt a disconnected to it. Lost was the magical world Fitzgerald created, gone were the extravagant parties I wanted a time machine to witness, and sadly, most everything else special about the book seemed to be missing. I just couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. How could this movie have gone so wrong? Francis Ford Coppola, the genius behind the Godfather trilogy, wrote it and was a huge factor in bringing it to the screen. With a cast like Mia Farrow, Robert Redford, and Sam Waterston in the lead roles, the characters should have jumped off the screen and been bought to life. Out of the three main actors, the only one I truly believed in his/her role was Sam Waterston as the narrator Nick Carraway. He was able to portray the every-man really well.
The magic aura and appeal of Gatsby and Daisy were lost in the translation from page to screen. These two characters are pertinent to the story, and if you miscast them you might as well not make the movie, as their story is the heart and soul of the novel/movie. Redford as Gatsby didn’t have any mystery to him. He didn’t seem like someone who was unattainable, and something about his character just was lost. He didn’t have that magic feeling about him, he just seemed like an average Joe with a really nice house. I’m trying to think if it was his acting or if it was just Redford in general, but either way he didn’t seem like the Gatsby I envisioned. When I was reading the novel, all I could think of was a young Warren Beatty or Marlon Brando playing Gatsby. They seem so clouded with mystery that I think they would have effectively portrayed one of the greatest literary characters ever written. Mia Farrow was also horribly miscast as Daisy, the lost love of Gatsby, who in a way is the original Kim Kardashian. She has no responsibility; she goes around from guy to guy, party to party, not caring about anyone’s feelings but her own. Mia Farrow seemed too white bread to play this character. In the book, she’s described as the most beautiful woman in the world, a Greek Goddess. Perfection. I couldn’t help but envision a blonde Natalie Wood or Faye Dunaway playing this character. Someone with a little bit more substance to them, but not Mia Farrow.
One hope I have for the new Baz Luhrmann version is that the magic is ignited and visible throughout the story. There is something so classic about the story, yet it also feels so modern. I think the incorporation of modern music, modern themes, and modern special effects really do the original story justice. I loved Baz Luhrmann’s version of Romeo and Juliet as it was a fresh take on a classic story. It still had the heart of soul of Shakespeare, but was a new and interesting way to present the story. I am already enjoying the trailers I’ve seen because it seems like they finally got it right. Gatsby seems like that mysterious figure, that person that no one really knows. I really hope Luhrmann is able to keep this mystery alive. Let’s just hope it doesn’t turn out a hot mess like the previous version.
Book: 6 out of 5 Stars
Movie: 1 out of 5 Stars
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Paperback: 192 pages
The Great Gatsby (1974)
PG, 144 minutes