After watching director Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby, there is no mistaking that it is Luhrmann’s piece. Like Moulin Rouge and Australia, he has placed his distinct cinematic stamp on the piece and, regretfully, made the piece his own. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the movie, and his dreamsape-esque style serves the story well, but his deviations from the book served no purpose.
In Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel, Caraway is writing the book from St. Paul, Minn. but, rather than writing it from a residence as the book suggests, he is currently being treated in a Sanitarium for a whole host of defects Caraway does not officially have. The writing device allows for Luhrmann (who co-adapted the screenplay with Craig Pearce) to include some of Fitzgerald’s most poetic passages. However, it also allows Luhrmann to include narration that was never written in the book as if it is Fitzgerald’s own words. These changes of Luhrmann’s and other similar changes simply confuse me as they do not serve to further the plot or condense the story as you might expect. Instead, they simply alter the characters ever so slightly. For example, the literary Caraway drinks far less than Maguire’s film personification.
Despite the changes in his character, Toby Maguire (Spiderman, Pleasantville) did a wonderful job as everyman and Midwesterner Nick Caraway. In fact, the whole cast was phenomenal – though I still cannot concede that any performance of Gatsby can compare to Robert Redford’s 1974 portrayal. Still, DiCaprio (Inception, Revolutionary Road) was the best choice and by the end I had accepted him as the elusive Jay Gatsby. While each member of the cast was amazing, no performance rivaled that of Carey Mulligan’s Daisy. Mulligan (Drive, Never Let Me Go) brought Daisy to life perfectly, as if she had simply walked of the page.
Further, in what I believe is a nice attempt to show the timelessness of The Great Gatsby, Luhrmann decided to incorporate a great deal of modern sounding music. While it was a nice idea – it fell a bit flat and instead pulled me out of the story. Despite the anachronistic music, the art and cinematic style of Luhrmann’s film was simply gorgeous. This was the most beautiful film I have seen in a long time.
I appreciate Luhrmann’s attempt to bring a faithful rendition of such a well-loved classic back to prominence, and his embracing of the symbolism – I simply wish he’d stayed a little more faithful. In short, like Gatsby himself, this movie was wonderful and larger-than-life – but it could have been so much more.
By all means, go, enjoy Luhrmann’s beautiful rendition, then do me, and yourself, a favor and go read, or reread The Great Gatsby.