Gatsby? What Gatsby?

The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby

Sometime in the second half of 2012 I saw the trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby for the first time, and I felt giddy with excitement. Not only is the book my favourite book of all time, but the trailer was amazing (and that’s not something I’ve ever said about a trailer before!). In fact the trailer was so good, I actively sought it out on YouTube and watched it time and time again. Here it is for your viewing pleasure: The Great Gatsby – Trailer #1

I decided I was probably going to LOVE this movie.

I eagerly awaited Christmas 2012, even wondering how I could wangle a ticket to the premiere. But then a friend mentioned that the release was being pushed back a few months because the studio bosses (or whoever) had come to realise that it wasn’t going to be a contender for any big awards – corroborated by The Huffington Post – and my heart sank. How could this happen to my favourite book? The trailer was so good!

In the end the film was released in the UK on 16 May. I purposefully avoided all reviews before Alex and I saw it the following day (at a special Gatsby-themed screening at Clapham Picturehouse). In true prohibition style, Alex had a mint julep and I had a glass of champagne, and I found that my excitement and optimism were back!

Gatsby and Daisy
Gatsby and Daisy

Given how many times I’ve read and studied the book, it was always going to be hard for the movie to live up to my idealised vision of it. But the party scenes were just as they should have been – over the top, glamorous and fantastic. And even though the music from JAY-Z, Lana Del Rey and Florence + The Machine (to name but a few) was anachronistic, I thought most of it worked really well. Plus we’ve already had an adaptation that stayed very close to the original text (Jack Clayton’s 1974 film starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow), so this was Baz’s chance to put his own stamp on it.

Some elements of the film were pretty incredible, especially the cinematography, 1920s costumes and some of the acting – Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan in particular. I didn’t even hate Tobey Maguire’s Nick as much as most people!

The main problem I had with the film was how the book had been ‘dumbed-down’. I remember studying it for A Level English with my brilliant teacher, Mr Sheehan (and again at uni with my brilliant lecturer, Dr Bob Lawson-Peebles), loving the chance to discover and decipher the intricacies and symbolism of the prose. But with the film you don’t get this chance. Instead you get slapped across the face with it. In the scene where Gatsby and Daisy meet for the first time in five years (at Nick’s house for tea), Gatsby is uncharacteristically awkward and nervous. The book tells us:

the clock took this moment to tilt dangerously at the pressure of his head, whereupon he turned and caught it with trembling fingers and set it back in place

But in the film this concept lacks any delicacy; instead Baz makes the clock scene loud and obvious, practically yelling from the rooftops ‘THIS BIT IS ALL ABOUT TIME! DING DING DING!’

So in the end, as much as I wanted to, I didn’t love the film after all. There were even a couple of moments when I worried I was hating it. In a way, my hopes and expectations about the film were similar to Gatsby’s hope about his reunion with Daisy:

…his dream must have seemed so close he could hardly fail to grasp it.

Having said all this, I’ll probably ask for the DVD for Christmas –  just to make extra sure I don’t love it!