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.