The Great Gatsby

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I don’t know what film the critics have seen, but it’s certainly not the one I saw on Friday night. There seems to be some sort of competition amongst the newspaper reviewers to be the most cultured, the most literarily authoritative and the most incandescent about how Luhrmann has ‘trampled over the subtleties’ of the original text. Please! Subtleties? Have they read The Great Gatsby? Aside from Of Mice and Men, you couldn’t find a more unsubtle novel. It bludgeons you over the head with its themes from the very first page, for heaven’s sake! Such an obvious novel cries out for a fresh, bold interpretation on the screen; one that lifts it from its established reading and allows it to be viewed from a new perspective. Baz Luhrmann has done just that, and I thought his vision was absolutely marvellous.

He brings the world of the roaring twenties magnificently and surreally to life. Gatsby and Daisy’s mansions are breathtakingly opulent, the legendary parties are a riot of colour and movement set to fantastic music (the soundtrack is seriously amazing) and New York is a throbbing, colourful, seedy metropolis. The costumes are a vision of loveliness and there are moments of cinematography that are truly breathtaking. Aside from the visuals, the acting is tremendous. Leonardo DiCaprio is Gatsby; he perfectly captures the childlike vulnerability of the character, his eyes haunted by a past he can’t reveal and a future he never stops hoping he will attain. Everyone else does a fine job, but they don’t match up to DiCaprio; he is the heart of the film, and actually made me feel emotionally engaged with the story for the very first time. I was a mess by the end.

There are some liberties taken with the storyline and characterisation, but I didn’t care. As an interpretation of a famous story, it was gloriously innovative, visually stunning and artistically brilliant. It enriched the message of the novel for me, bringing it to life in a way that Fitzgerald never quite manages. As with his version of Romeo and Juliet, Luhrmann has brought a familiar tale up to date, making it both emotionally and experientially relevant to a huge audience of people who would probably never otherwise access the original text. I loved every single minute, and would happily go and see it again every night of the week. Please don’t believe the critics; they’ve missed the point entirely. This isn’t about making a faithful adaptation of a period novel; it’s about bringing the world of The Great Gatsby to vivid, tangible life. Frankly, no one could have done it better.

59 comments

  1. What an enthusiastic review! You have made me want to race to theatre to see this. I think I just may. (I rarely go to the movies, so this is saying a lot.) Thank you!

      1. I’m so glad to hear it – you must go and enjoy it in the company of others – it’s one of ‘those’ sorts of films, definitely.

  2. I too enjoyed the movie, never mind subtleties, this was an exhilarating ride through the roaring twenties and it’s excesses. I love Baz Luhrman’s films, even Australia!

  3. I agree! It was fantastic. Like you, I never quite engaged with any of the characters when I read the novel, but Luhrmann’s treatment of the text managed to evoke an emotional response from me. I also adored the soundtrack (I love how Lurhmann indulges in anachronistic music in a way that shouldn’t work but somehow always does), and the production/costume design blew me away.

    1. I’m so glad you had the same experience, Diana! It really did manage to capture an emotional heart to the story that I think Fitzgerald’s rather cold prose doesn’t. Yes the music is perfect, and so well chosen – I have been listening to the soundtrack ever since and I adore it!

  4. I have not seen the movie and probably won’t, because I rarely see any movies, but you are quite right in your premise that a story as straightforward as Gatsby’s demands an innovative approach. Did you ever see the Redford/Farrow version? Stupefyingly dull. You’ve piqued my interest with your enthusiastic review!

    1. Oh Mumsy, you have to make an exception this time! I have never seen the Redford version, and I don’t feel I need to now. Please go and see it – you’d love it, I’m sure!

      1. Hahahaha, oh, innocent Rachel. Little you know that Mumsy will NEVER EVER EVER go see this film because she never watches movies ever. Ever. The only movie she has ever watched in her entire life is Angels in America. That is hyperbole but barely.

        Also this post made me giggle because of your extremely sensible and correct point about the subtleties that The Great Gatsby has never had and never will.

  5. It has received some terrible reviews here too. So glad you have written this post I am more inclined to see it now.

  6. Loved it too. I went home and immediately re-read the novel – and 90% of the dialogue in the novel was in the film. I found it quite faithful. yet totally wonderful and am more than a little in love with Leonardo Dicaprio now.

    1. So glad to hear it, Annabel! Yes, it is very faithful to the book, which is why I don’t understand all the grumbling. Leo certainly showed a new side to me in this film – I’d never found him attractive before, but as Gatsby…well!😉

  7. I completely agree. Leonardo DICaprio effortlessly slips from each one of his characters to the next. He always manage to be make his role vivid and memorable and never was this more important to my literary vision than in his portrayal of Gatsby. This review is exactly what I wanted to see after some of the negatives I’ve read.

    1. Glad you felt the same, Alex – DiCaprio is a brilliant actor, isn’t he? I hope he gets an Oscar nod for this as he definitely deserves it.

  8. I can’t wait to go and see this! (Hopefully this week sometime) I hate how so many reviews have completely slated it – from what I’ve seen it looks to be glitzy and glamorous and everything that Gatsby should be.

    1. Rush to the cinema, Jennifer! I know, me too – they have missed the point entirely, and are bashing it just for the sake of it, I think. Baz Luhrmann is a genius in my book!

  9. I recently read a review that stated that the major issue with the film is that it loves the book too much and too little at the same time. I think it’s what happened to reviewers as well. I mean, is like they expected a completely faithful adaptation and a wholly new way to look at the book at the same time and between those expectations forgot to actually watch the film…

    1. Yes absolutely – and many of the comments made my critics reveal a complete misunderstanding of the book in the first place anyway. Fools! As a piece of entertainment, it is wonderful – and that is what it should be judged upon!

  10. Taylor went with a girlfriend last night and once the credits began to roll they just sat there in awe. She said it was probably the best movie she has ever seen! You’ve clinched it…off to check out the show times for tonight. Are you inspired to scour vintage shops for a Gatsby-inspired dress, Rachel?

    1. I’m so pleased Taylor loved it! It really is a special film that blows you away – I know you’ll think it’s brilliant, so make sure you book those tickets! Oh yes – my friend has now decided she’s going to do a Gatsby birthday party, so I am on the hunt for something beaded and sparkly!

  11. Couldn’t agree more. I tend to agree with the general consensus of critics for the most part, but I can’t believe how wildly off so many of them are with this one. I’ve even heard that the 3-D version was good and I’m considering seeing it a second time that way with my husband who refused to see it the first go round.

    1. I know, it’s shocking how off the mark everyone has been with this! I don’t normally like 3D but I have considered doing the same – I watched it in 2D but I do wonder what it would have been like with the extra dimension!

  12. Fabulous review, Rachel, making me want to run out and see the movie asap. I love your enthusiasm – and I don’t pay all that much attention to reviews anyways.

  13. One of the things I love about your blog, Rachel, is your independence of mind…if I had read only the views of the majority of the critics I might not have been persuaded to attend a matinee yesterday and now realise that I would have missed a treat. That one long moment when Daisy and Gatsby meet again for the first time broke my heart. If ever an Oscar is awarded on the strength of feeling in a man’s eyes, DiCaprio would steal it.

    1. Thanks Donna – what a compliment! I’m so glad I convinced you to go along and see it – wasn’t it marvellous? I am in total agreement – if DiCaprio doesn’t get an Oscar, I’ll be furious!

  14. I’ve been nodding along so much to this my head could potentially fall off! I have purposefully avoided reading any reviews for Gatsby because I just knew the reviewers would tear it apart. I don’t think you could ever make a faithful adaptation to the book and capture its energy at the same time. Luhrmann has done a fantastic job and a beautiful job. And Leo?! Oh my! And the soundtrack?! OH MY! There are so many things to love about this film I don’t know how anyone could say a bad word against it.

  15. I have not seen the film yet – and your(s) are the first review I have allowed myself to read. Now, it’s time to go to the movies! I trust your vision explicitly. Thanks.

  16. I loved it too and I agree DiCaprio’s acting was Academy-Award-worthy. I don’t know why people didn’t like it or complan about the music being anachronic since I think it fitted the scenes perfectly. I’m not a party person but it made want to go to a big, loud, messy party.

    1. I think the critics were out to get the film and went in with no intention of coming away with any positives. I don’t understand why because I think it’s a wonderful film that has such an interesting take on the story. I think perhaps in a few years’ time it will be hailed as a great film, but now, maybe because it’s been so controversial and so expensive, it’s the film it’s fashionable to hate. Thankfully the people who matter – cinema audiences – have a mind of their own and seem to be willing to give it a go anyway!

  17. When I heard that Baz Luhrman was doing a film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, my first thought was ‘his style and that story – a perfect combination’. I can’t wait to see it.

  18. What an interesting and refreshing review, I am so glad to hear a different opinion, so far I have just had the “it’s really terrible” from my mother (who has not seen the film) based on her reading of the Daily Mail.

  19. I loved the film and your review (I’ve linked to it on my blog). I thought Isla Fisher was very good as Myrtle Wilson, too. My only teensy criticism was they missed the scene where Nick sits on an old grass roller in the garden and looks out at the stars, but it’s a minor quibble. I even thought the J-Z soundtrack worked well, too.!

    1. Thanks Nicola! So glad you loved it. My own niggle was not having his dad there at the funeral – that sense of him being someone’s son adds real gravitas to the ending. J-Z soundtrack is amazing, isn’t it? I love it!

  20. I was afraid to watch this because I’m scared the director ruined it. I’ve read so many negative reviews however if you like it then it should be ok for someone who loved the book.

      1. Go and see it, its brilliant. I saw it again yesterday, this time in 2D, which is better. It doesn’t need the distraction of 3D. I love it love it love it. The visual imagery is overwhelming and the modern music mixed with old is perfect.
        And I am old enough to have seen the Robert Redford version at the cinema in the 70’s. This new version is fantastic.

  21. I am also scared to watch this one… I liked Romeo & Juliet, but Moulin Rouge gave me a headache. And I’m not sure if I can see anyone but Toby Stephens in this role. Still curious, though.

    1. Oh really? Well, I’m not a huge fan of Moulin Rouge and I love Romeo and Juliet…so maybe you’ll love Great Gatsby as much as me. You should give it a try!

  22. I entirely agree. I saw the film last night, and loved every second of it. It was visually stunning, costumes and sets were amazing. I will see it again, although next time in 2D, 3D doesnt do much for this film & buy the DVD when its released. Its a classic. Don’t believe the reviews.

  23. Oh, and the dancing and music and parties were just brilliant. They captured the extravagance, decadence and greed and selfishness of the era perfectly. All these people came to Gatsby’s free parties, no one even knew him, and nobody came to his funeral. He was used and abandoned by them all. Sad, symbol for the decay of society. Lots of deep symbolism in this story.

  24. I saw Gatsby (in 2D) this past weekend and Loved it! So glad your review made me go see it, I was stunned at the costumes, the cinematography, the score, the acting! Thanks again for your post!

  25. Rachel, I waited to read your post until I’d finished reading ‘Gatsby’ for the first time, as I wasn’t sure if your review was of the book or the film. I enjoyed the book, but, unlike many people I’ve read/heard, I don’t think it’s THE most wonderful book ever written!
    However, I’m looking forward to seeing the film – even more so after reading your review at last! I’ve always thought Leo a wonderful actor in everything I’ve seen him in. Someone on the programme said that this was the first time they’ve seen him looking ‘grown-up’. (They liked the film, by the way!)

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