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The Great Gatsby

Went to see the new Baz Luhrmann version of THE GREAT GATSBY last night.

The film is doing good business, but getting decidedly mixed reviews from the critics. Some love it, some are cool, a few are tearing it to pieces. And the sides don't necessarily line up with those who liked or didn't like the source material, the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Count me with those who loved it. I think this is a great film. AND a great and faithful adaptation of the novel, which is not necessarily the same thing. I've never seen the two oldest versions of GATSBY, but the Luhrmann films stands head and shoulders above the beautiful but curiously empty Robert Redford/ Mia Farrow version.

Visually, this GATSBY is just amazing, something even its harshest critics have been forced to allow. (Though some of them do not like that). I don't think it would be correct to say that it brings 1920s New York to life, since I doubt that 1920s NYC was ever so saturated with color, life, sound. This is a dreamscape, everything bigger, brighter, noisier, drenched in life and color... but that's perfectly appropriate here, since the entire narrative is couched as Nick Carraway looking back on a formative time in his life, and dreams are always more intense than reality. Golden ages are never as golden as we remember them.

I'm a word guy first and foremost, though, and it is the words that sing for me here. There are a lot of Fitzgerald's own words in this GATSBY, in the dialogue, in the voiceovers, in the frame, and that's more than okay with me. There's never been a more lyrical writer than F. Scott and that lyricism is captured here.

The performances were also terrific. Carrie Mulligan's Daisy made me understand Gatsby's obsessions in a way that the Mia Farrow's Daisy never did; I would be have been obsessed as well. I will confess, I had my doubts about Leonardo diCaprio going on. The central flaw with the Robert Redford GATSBY is Redford himself. A fine actor, certainly, but far too handsome, graceful, self-assured, and in command of every scene to be convincing as Jay Gatsby. Robert Redford is one of the golden people, and Jay Gatsby is desperately TRYING to be one of the golden people, to aspire to everything that comes naturally to Redford, and that distinction is crucial... and ultimately as one of the things that sank the Redford film. I was afraid the Luhrmann version would suffer the same way. I've liked Leonardo diCaprio ever since I first saw him in THE QUICK AND THE DEAD (a guilty favorite) as The Kid, but in that, in TITANIC, and in all his major roles, he's comes across as cocky, brash, self-assured, handsome, with a swagger to him that suggests that he knows who he is and is unafflicted by doubts or fears... all of which is the antithesis of Gatsby.

He wasn't here. This is a new, mature Leonardo, as I have never seen himself before, and he does a great turn here. The Kid and Jack and all of those vanish, and there's only Gatsby... trying so hard, dreaming so fiercely.

I loved it.

And at the end, it broke my heart, the way the novel always does ever time I reread it, the way it did the first time I read it, back in the early 70s.

Now I will admit, I am prejudiced. This is one of my favorite books. This is a book that has vast personal meaning to me, one that has affected me deeply. The romantic in me identifies strongly with Jay Gatsby (and sometimes with Nick Carraway). I know what it is to chase after that green light. So I will not pretend to be disinterested.

But I love the book, I love the story, and I loved this movie. Go see it.

"... And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.... And one fine morning — So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."



May. 15th, 2013 05:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this amazing post.
May. 15th, 2013 05:58 pm (UTC)
I haven't gotten to see a non-kids' movie in the theater in several years! This is one I'm interested in seeing, though, if I can find the time. The last film by Baz Luhrman I recall seeing was Moulin Rouge, which is one of my favorite movies. That one also had some pretty mixed reviews, from what I recall.
(Deleted comment)
May. 15th, 2013 06:20 pm (UTC)
Excellent review. Couldn't agree with every point more.
May. 15th, 2013 06:24 pm (UTC)
Mental or visual images first?
I've been watching HBO first and reading the books second so that I can avoid the film messing up the images in my head I would form reading the books. Reading second also means I pick up on the subtleties that the series might not get across.

Being in the UK, the book has managed to pass me by. Would you recommend doing the same with GG?

Edited at 2013-05-15 06:25 pm (UTC)
May. 17th, 2013 07:55 am (UTC)
The Great Gatsby was published in 1925 and has been on school syllabuses in the UK for decades. I don't think that being in the UK has any relevance to the book passing you by.
May. 17th, 2013 08:12 am (UTC)
Re: Mental or visual images first?
I think it's almost always wise to watch the movie first, because I find it easier to forgive a film's flaws if I compare it to the original *after*, rather than going in with preconceived hopes and notions. :)
May. 15th, 2013 06:30 pm (UTC)
I've been resistant to see this movie, partially due to poor adaptations in the past of one of my favorite books, and partially due to adaptations generally being but a pale imitation of the source prose. Every time I reread the book, which happens every couple of years, it's a journey anew as new life experiences color my appreciation for each of the various characters.
Jason Beatty
May. 15th, 2013 06:33 pm (UTC)
I see a bit of Jay Gatsby in Littlefinger. No?
May. 16th, 2013 06:40 am (UTC)
Re: Gatsby
Same here. I wish show-Littlefinger was more Gatsby and less Iago, as that's the way he always is in my head while reading the book.
May. 15th, 2013 06:39 pm (UTC)
wish more than ever that it could out sooner here in mexico :'(
but this was a great review. redford's film is my favourite out of all the `previous adaptations, but you are spot on in that he is already one of the "golden people." i wasn't sure of dicaprio at first but after some clips i've changed my mind. i'll trust your word that carrie mulligan is good in it, cause mia's face and voice are more in line with what i pictured daisy to look/sound like, but it's a tough call for me as to whom is a better actress between those two (:
May. 15th, 2013 06:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks for weighing in Ser Martin! :)
I look forward to seeing it. I think the thing that has some critics in a fury is the soundtrack and the idea that it overshadows very seriously disturbing content.
May. 15th, 2013 07:10 pm (UTC)
Try Catch Me If You Can
Thanks for the great review!

If you haven't seen it already, I recommend Catch Me If You Can, an underrated film, in which DiCaprio manages to show both extreme self-confidence and the fear and vulnerability which lie beneath it.
May. 15th, 2013 07:38 pm (UTC)
It's so funny to see my exact thoughts on the movie written out by someone as amazing as you, sir! I'm glad you liked it as much as I did. ^.^
May. 15th, 2013 08:07 pm (UTC)
Agreed on all counts!! Did you see it in 3-D? I went in wishing they'd had a 2-D theatre available, but I came out very glad to have seen the 3-D -- the effect it had on the green light, in particular, moved me.

Edited at 2013-05-15 08:07 pm (UTC)
Steven Townshend
May. 15th, 2013 08:46 pm (UTC)
In movie reviews I look for critics with sensibilities similar to my own (often hard to find). So this review has been helpful for me, since reviews for Gatsby have run the gamut. Now I'm going to check it out.
May. 15th, 2013 09:18 pm (UTC)
George, one of the things I like about you (aside from your Ice and Fire and Dunk and Egg stories, of course) is that you have great taste: football (well, I do like the Giants...), food, books.... I'm a bit skeptical about this one. I'll see it, but probably not at the cinema.
May. 15th, 2013 09:18 pm (UTC)
Haven't read the book, or seen any of the previous films (I was 8 or 9 when Redford's came out), but I loved the trailer for Luhrmann's TGG when I saw it in the cinema, however I was discouraged by the reviews. Yours has made my mind up to see it though, thank you.
May. 15th, 2013 09:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the panegyric I'd love to hear from you. That is great and timely
May. 15th, 2013 09:55 pm (UTC)
I loved it also, so much so that I'm planning on seeing it for a third time. It's been a long time since a movie in theaters has made me want to see it multiple times but this is definitely one of them.
Matt Stedman
May. 16th, 2013 03:09 am (UTC)
I was never interested in Great Gatsby book or movie. Not enough swords and dragons for me, haha. I never doubt Leo's acting ability though. He has come a very long way since Titanic. I've been a fan since The Departed and I think his performance in Shutter Island is outstanding (even if the movie itself was a bit underwhelming)
May. 23rd, 2013 03:12 am (UTC)
It is my opinion that since the Aviator, DiCaprio has been the finest American screen actor. I don't see Leonardo DiCaprio anymore. Only the characters.
Lindsay Caldwell
May. 16th, 2013 03:27 am (UTC)
I didn't listen to the people who said it got bad reviews. I'm so excited to see it!
May. 16th, 2013 05:22 am (UTC)
I've been on the fence about this adaptation since day one. But after reading lots of questionable reviews I finally decided: hey, I'll just go and make up my own mind! So I'm going next Tuesday.

Carey Mulligan is a fine actress. I have no concerns about her performances in anything as I've yet to see anything less than great from her.
May. 16th, 2013 10:57 am (UTC)
I'm another person who took awhile to take to diCaprio. I think his early films do get in the way to appreciating what a great actor he's become. He was fantastic in "The Departed."

And three hoorays that a favorite book has become a favorite movie. I've been disappointed more times that I can count on that regard, so I can imagine how fantastic a feeling this must be.
May. 16th, 2013 01:15 pm (UTC)
Benjamin Button is one of my favorite characters of his. I came across it in his Tales of the Jazz Age, a trilogy of sorts. Never saw the film adaptation, I wonder if it's as good as people say.
May. 16th, 2013 02:38 pm (UTC)
I loved it, too. Thank you for such a thoughtful review.
May. 17th, 2013 12:54 am (UTC)
I really liked it, too! The content was all there and it stayed very true to the material.

The only two things that bugged me were pretty minor annoyances. The first was Nick in the asylum, which was more of a framing device than anything else. It gave them a lot of options and the ability to have Fitzgerald's words in the film without it being in dialogue form, but I feel that maybe they could have done it better.

The other thing was when those split screen things would happen, and the handwritten words would pop up on the screen. That felt like something I'd see in a Lifetime movie, not a major Hollywood production.

But aside from that, overall, I thought it was an excellent film. I'm glad a lot of other people did too!
May. 17th, 2013 12:40 pm (UTC)
Nice treat
You should do more of these, George.
May. 17th, 2013 10:41 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I was not sure if I should see the movie. Now it is a go! I'll see it this weekend! :)
May. 18th, 2013 01:07 am (UTC)
I agree with you 100%, on both the book and this movie. As if I needed any other reasons to adore you!

The only thing that upset me was the change at the end (trying to keep things as spoiler-free as possible: the dad). That change made me a bit sad. :( Otherwise, I am in love with this adaptation and I already can't wait to see it again.
May. 18th, 2013 09:26 pm (UTC)
The Great Gatsby is great!
I just saw the film today and it left me amazed and speechless. This is a MOVIE, this is what literature and film should do-create wonder, amazement, and thought. When that green light went out in the end I was moved. I read the book and saw the Redford film for an Amercan Lit. class ages ago as a homework assaignment. If you want to undermine great literture, assign it as homework. This version made me understand what Gatsby was all about.
I also second the diCaprio's performance. He took his acting up a number of notches. The other actors did a great job also. Must see!
May. 19th, 2013 06:11 pm (UTC)
I loved Moulin Rouge, and felt that this was very much a spiritual successor, although I enjoyed ML a bit more. Gatsby's first third is a runaway train of (good) energy, but it doesn't last. It slows down and although it comes achingly close to moving the viewer, it's sometimes hard to see the characters as anything other than just more set dressing. While metaphor is omnipresent in Fitzgerald's novel, there are only so many times a green light can flash on screen before I start to dread seeing it. It becomes heavy-handed. For us to see why Gatsby looks at it with such reverence, we need to understand why he loved Daisy in the first place, and that's never clear. However, to borrow a phrase from ML, the party scenes were spectacular spectacular. If it was a third as long and retitled Gatsby's Dance Party, I'd give it a 10/10.

Agreed that DiCaprio was a high point. He's really terrific.

- Jared M. Gordon

Edited at 2013-05-19 06:14 pm (UTC)
Rich Duncan
May. 20th, 2013 12:54 am (UTC)
Yes ... it is important that the film brings across the words and the meaning.
Which is why the series HBO is doing makes me sick to my stomach most Sunday nights. It's going too far away from what I consider to be the good stuff!

I will say ... even though I have been stomaching what I consider to be a butchery of one of the best penned set of books in my lifetime... They did get the scene with Dany freeing the Unsullied correct. I actually welled up with tears when it aired .. I felt as though these schmucks FINALLY got one scene correct! :) yes yes I know they can't put all of your work in ...

I can say that now I know what Tokien fans really were. I love his work but I am nowhere near a fanboy like I am for your books and I can now see how lucky they really were that The Beatles did not get to star in a movie of the LOTR ... :)

Can't what for the next book ... and I will still support you by buying random people in the B&N "Game Of Thrones" .... and I will still pay for HBO to support you too ... I guess ;)
James Nicholson
May. 20th, 2013 07:02 am (UTC)
A Gatsby Parallel
I might have known you liked Great Gatsby, George. It's a masterful book, a soulgaze into both the American psyche and the soul of a romantic that came so close to achieving what he wanted, yet could never quite reach it. And your review didn't disappoint; looks like I'll have to see that movie now.

It makes me wonder whether you included a parallel character to Gatsby in your seminal work, as you have with Shylock and the Three Stooges.

I might be reaching, but I think I might have found one: Petyr Baelish. He's a man who stops at nothing to chase after the memory of the woman he loves, even if he has to use the enterprises of the underworld to get there. He's a much more ruthless character, more sinister and slimy, yet his goal seems the same. Perhaps Baelish has lost sight of that obsession in search of power, but I hold on hope that the remnants of that pure passion lies somewhere underneath. It would almost make me root for him, if that were the case.
May. 20th, 2013 08:00 pm (UTC)
Re: A Gatsby Parallel
Yes, there's a lot of Gatsby in Littlefinger. Book Littlefinger, anyway. TV Littlefinger is a different sort of creature.
James Nicholson
May. 21st, 2013 02:19 am (UTC)
Re: A Gatsby Parallel
Excellent! I can't wait to see how far Littlefinger gets in his quest for love and the Iron Throne.
Sean Hall
May. 20th, 2013 07:18 am (UTC)
To me, Gatsby is kinda like a poorer version - or at least a much less entertaining version of 'the big lebowski'

I won't argue that it is a 'great american novel' -- I just dislike the reasons why people consider it such. (See Huck Fin).

I'll see it though, if for no better reason than I have read the book.

(Didn't see Anna karenina or Les Miserables because I intend to read them first).

Have you seen either of those? Read the books? Worthwhile?
May. 20th, 2013 07:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Gatsby
The Dude abides.
May. 23rd, 2013 03:24 am (UTC)
Les Mis is not the book. It's the musical. Reading a translation of the book is not necessary and neither is reading it in French. Seeing the musical isn't necessary either. Although it made me appreciate both the talent of the screen actors and the voices of the Broadway stage cast.

I've not read the Great Gatsby -- I've not read lots of great books -- but thanks to George's comments and review I will now.
May. 20th, 2013 05:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this, I haven't seen it yet, and plan to see it. I always enjoy it when favorite novelists write about movies that mean something to them. Now, on to the next WEDDING. ;-)
Jasmine Faraj
May. 25th, 2013 03:10 pm (UTC)
Fuck Daisy.
*spoiler alert; don’t read if you haven’t read the book/ seen the movie* I absolutely hate Daisy. I’m not saying Gatsby was completely sane and right, but Daisy was a shallow materialistic, senseless, heartless bitch. She should’ve told him how she really felt; she was only confused because she was weighing the material benefits of being his wife. She didn’t even show up to his funeral, even though she was the only reason he died, she mine as well have shot him herself, she never fessed up to killing Mertal. She’s a coward, nothing but a pleasure-seeking, selfish gold-digger. Gatsby on the other hand was crazed and blinded by his idea of Daisy and hope, he never entertained the possibility that she wouldn’t love him, it wasn’t an option; so in a way he didn’t respect or regard her as a person. He expected her to drop everything that she built in the last 5 years, her marriage, home, children, and run away with him never to return. He was driven by passion, making rash decisions and pressuring Daisy to tell Tom she doesn’t love him and never did. After all that time of obsessing and waiting, his patience was spread thin. Does no one else think he’s a little creepy for doing everything he did for a girl he probably had a little, meaningless fling with and hasn’t seen in five years? I feel bad for him because he doesn’t know what true love is. True love is a two way street, if it was true love Daisy would’ve reciprocated Gatsby’s love, she would’ve sacrificed the last 5 years to him and never have moved on, she wouldn’t have been able to because the idea of being with anyone else would’ve been nauseating. But she was able to move on and even have children with another man. The love between Gatsby and her was never real, and I doubt the love between her and Tom is real either. Shes too selfish, incapable of love because she’s too consumed in the material world and social class statuses. She disgusts me. Most people in modern society are the same, explaining the escalating divorce rates and unhappiness. Nothing is more depressing than shallow love, once its realized you’ll understand that your whole life has been nothing but an empty, selfish lie. That’s why it’s best to be ignorant.
Jean Poulmarc'h
May. 29th, 2013 06:17 pm (UTC)
Excellent review!
But... what did you think about the soundtrack? It ruined the movie for me. I found this version way better than the Robert Redford version: the visuals and the rhythm of the story were truly breathtaking (and the green light seemed more important than in the Redford version), but why such a modern soundtrack? Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Lana Del Rey, Gotye and Will.I.Am... really? If they wanted to do a modern version of 1920's Jazz music they could have used some electro-swing bands like Caravan Palace or anything that AT LEAST sounded similar to 1920's music. "Together" by The XX did not fit so badly though, it's too modern for the time but fits the ambiance. That movie could have been so much better if they had used Jazz music or if they asked a composer to make the score instead of using Beyoncé's "Back To Black" and Jay-Z's "100$ Bill"...
May. 29th, 2013 07:18 pm (UTC)
I just wanted to say THANK YOU! Because I loved it to and was also skeptical of Leo, but he really did do an amazing job. It's one of those visually stunning and awesome performance movies (by Leo)... that keeps me thinking about it. I don't think I really ever understood Gatsby until I saw Leo play him.
May. 30th, 2013 09:42 pm (UTC)
Leo DiCaprio
...gets sold short too frequently, largely due to TITANIC (among other films) evoking extreme emotional responses (positive and negative). But if you haven't already seen them watch WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE? and CATCH ME IF YOU CAN for a fairly full range of DiCaprio's acting. Both terrific films.

But since we're talking book-stuff: remember that Frank Abegnale, the character DiCaprio plays, is a terrific author in his own right. ;-)
May. 31st, 2013 03:18 pm (UTC)
Gatsby Review
Having seen the movie and being a big fan of the book, I was a bit disappointed with the film. Overall I thought the movie was well done, however there were a few things that really bothered me. First and foremost, I absolutely hated the sound track and music choices. Beyonce and Jay-Z had no place having their music in this movie. To me, this was a total disconnect. The movie is set in the 1920s, not present day. I understand that they tried to put a jazzy spin on the music, however, I think the overall performance fell short. Secondly, I had some casting issues. This movie was so hyped up and had decent funding, that I expected the characters to be spot on. Myrtle in my opinion was not near curvy enough. Her personality and mannerisms were perfect, but physically, she did not add up to the book. I felt the same way about Tom. He should have been bigger and more muscular. The book clearly described him as being bulky and brawny with his clothes tightly fitting over his figure. They could have pushed this much further. I too had some concern over Leonardo being Gatsby, but I agree, he delivered. Although all of these elements seem to be minor, they really help set the tone of the film as a whole. Had these elements been executed better, I think the movie would have been flawless... which is what my expectations were in the first place.


George R.R. Martin
George R. R. Martin

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