The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite novels of all time, and Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation is really quite phenomenal. It captures the exact essence of the novel – the colossal vitality of Jay Gatsby’s dream. Luhrmann is possibly the first person to successfully depict the intoxicating splendour of 1920s Jazz Age symbiotically with horrifying reality of the Roaring Twenties. Of course, being a Baz Luhrmann movie, we can expect heaps of theatricality and a certain Hollywood modernisation only he can pull off, and it’s befitting for Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby is a love story, in essence, the result being a highly romanticised adaptation of the novel.
The fever of fun and laughter running through the first hour is infectious; you can’t quite help but laugh along, enchanted by the lavish sets, the vibrantly colourful cinematography, the gorgeous costumes. The first sighting of Gatsby is spectacular, complete with fireworks. Yes, it’s a little cheesy, but it works. Luhrmann’s style grasps a hold of the fundamental shallow lavishness of Gatsby’s parties, making the inevitable tragedy that much more depressing.
Leonardo DiCaprio is Gatsby. His boyish charm is alluring, his awkward naivety entertaining, his iconic grandeur well-matched to his castle, accompanied by the falseness and menace lurking beneath. Carey Mulligan is a flirtatious, emotionally complex and radiantly beautiful Daisy, more understated than Mia Farrow’s sickening portrayal. And Tobey Maguire exceeds expectations. Nick Carraway as a character is guarded and wooden, whilst extremely astute, facets Maguire encompasses well.
It is by no means a flawless movie. Joel Edgerton’s Tom Buchanan is not the hulking brute I would have expected. His watered-down detestable husband unfortunately makes the iconic hotel scene underwhelming, with no real presence to battle Gatsby’s deluded dream, which is a real shame. Something about that scene just doesn’t quite sit right; the editing is a little sticky, especially without any soundtrack to support the scene. Luhrmann’s focused attention to Gatsby’s bombastic world comes at the detriment of other elements of novel, which are tacked on as an afterthought.
Nevertheless, Gatsby’s dream, quite rightly, supports the entirety of The Great Gatsby. Narratively, Luhrmann deviates little from the sequence of the novel. The main departure is the frame of Nick Carraway discussing his experiences in a psychiatrist’s office; a clever way of exposing Nick’s narrative voice on-screen.
The Great Gatsby’s real power resides in its soundtrack. Luhrmann commented that Fitzgerald wrote Jazz into his novel because it encompasses the feeling of change in the 1920s, he chose Hip-Hop for the exact same parallel reasoning. Quite rightly, Luhrmann has tapped into this cultural fact, mixing a range of modern artists together, all overlaid with Jazz. The use of 3D is perhaps more questionable; it doesn’t exactly add anything, other than displaying some stunning panning and zooming shots typical of Luhrmann.
Of course this movie was never going to be the elegantly nuanced, ingenious masterpiece Fitzgerald created. If that’s what you want, read the book. Besides, the novel itself is extravagant – Fitzgerald’s use of language is anything but subtle – and Luhrmann delivers on revitalising the theatricality of the novel and its era through motion picture. If you’re willing to appreciate The Great Gatsby for what it is, you’ll see that it’s a re-enactment of a shallow age, tying up hope and disillusion, glamour and corruption into one enchanting movie. And if you don’t like it, sadly you’ve missed the point of the novel.