‘Gatsby’ continues to glitter

Leo in Gatsby


Taking a break from my regularly-scheduled Wednesday photo posts to talk Gatsby. Honestly, can one have too much Gatsby in their life?

I doubt it, old sport.

Like so many teens, my first exposure to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic came in high school. The Great Gatsby was assigned reading my sophomore year — and though I’ve always been a reader, it took an introduction to this work to get me excited about literature. Gatsby was a gateway drug. I sprang to Austen and Dickens after this 1925 classic, devouring Shakespeare and Welty in turn. Heck, I even humored Hemingway. I was addicted.

Gatsby book coverBecause Gatsby is accessible, entertaining, absorbing and all-around fantastic, I didn’t spend my time as a student afraid to approach Great Literature. I wasn’t scared off by serious tones and symbolism. The Canon of Fabulous Works didn’t intimidate me. My obsession with reading launched my English studies in college, which sharpened my writing skills, which led to my career as a writer and editor.

Can I thank Gatsby for that?

In a way, yes.

But as a lovesick teen girl, I wasn’t focused on the corruption of the American dream or costs of decadence. At 15, I became enamored with the Jazz Age classic because I considered it a love story. (And maybe it still is.) Gatsby’s pursuit of Daisy seemed unrelentingly optimistic and just . . . sweet. Ignorant to the book’s messages, I read it purely as the story of a man who could never forget his first love. Convinced he need only money and luxury to lure Daisy away from the privileged, “careless” life she shares with Tom Buchanan, Gatsby sets off to make it big. And win Daisy back. Her green light is a beacon of hope — one that declares he can have anything he’s ever wished for . . . if he never eases up.

It’s interesting now, examining the story as an adult. I’ve read the book three times and am halfway through a fourth. We went to see Baz Luhrmann’s latest film adaptation on Sunday . . . and I became obsessed with the story anew. No matter how many times I hold Gatsby up for inspection, analyzing his motives and means and parts, I can still uncover more layers. Almost a century after it landed in the hands of its first readers, we still have so much to talk about.

Gatsby posterThat is the magic of Gatsby. Of Fitzgerald’s writing. Of that particular era of history, the 1920s: so rich and vivid and compelling. Despite some lukewarm to derisive reviews of “The Great Gatsby,”
I loved the film. I loved it so hard. Leonardo DiCaprio was a charismatic, convincing Gatsby, and I viewed his pursuit of wealth and the so-called American Dream with fresh eyes. Daisy’s portrayal by Carey Mulligan was the perfect mix of disaffected ingenue and fragile mess, which I adored, and I despised her all over again.

And can we talk about the music? I know people are all over the place with this one. Executive produced by Jay-Z, the film’s soundtrack features eclectic music — hip-hop, alternative rock — and modern tunes punctuate some of the movie’s most pivotal scenes. As Gatsby and Nick fly in that iconic car and the New York skyline comes into view, a haunting bar of Alicia Key’s “Empire State of Mind” caught me off-guard. But I liked it. It took what could have been a staid  interpretation of an iconic story and turned it around. I downloaded Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” from bed the next morning. I just . . . couldn’t get it out of my head. It’s so haunting.

The whole film is haunting.

The modern feel isn’t for everyone, I know. And that’s okay. But even the departures from Fitzgerald’s text — notably a framework where Nick is telling Gatsby’s story from a sanitarium, where he’s being treated for alcoholism and depression, among other ailments — just added to the narrative; for me, it didn’t take anything away. I like that Gatsby is still provoking us to imagine things differently, to ask questions and draw the text into the current world.

Gatsby and DaisyDid I think the movie was flawless? No. Nothing ever is. But I didn’t go into “The Great Gatsby” wearing my critical glasses. I wanted to be transported, entertained and dazzled — exactly what I’d expect from a Luhrmann film. And I was. As the credits rolled and the lights came up, I blinked in the dim light. I felt disoriented. Even knowing precisely what was going to happen didn’t save me from feeling breathless throughout the movie, and somehow still shocked by its close. I wanted things to be different.

When I got home on Sunday, I dug through my bookshelves until I found my tattered old copy of Gatsby. It’s underlined and highlighted, dog-eared on pages where a passage or two struck me, and worn around the edges from getting stuffed into book bags and purses. I’m 100 pages into my latest reading. Despite being such a relentless lover of literature, I never re-read books. Ever. Seriously, Gatsby is the only book I’ve ever read more than once — and being on a fourth reading is sort of ludicrous. But seeing the film provoked so many new questions . . . and I wanted to be able to compare the film and book after a fresh reading of the text.

But I can’t really do that. Not really. It’s not fair to intricately compare a book to its cinematic counterpart; they’re two different ways of storytelling. Overall, would I declare the film “faithful” to the beloved text? Yes, I would. And if I agree with some of the quibbles about Nick’s role, for instance, that doesn’t dampen my overall enthusiasm. Gatsby moves me like no other story, and “Gatsby” on the big screen was an incredible experience.

I loved it. And if you love the story, too, I trust you’ve got your tickets.


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18 thoughts on “‘Gatsby’ continues to glitter

  1. I reviewed the movie and the book on Monday, and honestly I think even some of our phrases were the same. I loved the movie, and the critics be damned. Loved the music, loved the whirlwind of glitz, loved the actors. As a teen, most of this novel’s nuances were lost on me but I do remember just DESPISING Daisy. It is interesting how, as an adult, we are able to better appreciate the human frailties laid out here. I’m hoping that someone in my family will want to see it and I can go again 🙂

  2. I couldn’t read to much of this because I am a fan of the Gatsby story, and the stars in this film so want to form my own impression, but I remember reading the book for the first time and the effect it had on me. Fitzgerald’s prose and insights are relentless and leave a lasting impression.

  3. I totally agree with this! I kept hearing such negative reviews of the movie, but I loved it. And not because I didn’t love the book – the book is one of my all-time favorites. It’s like you wrote: ” It’s not fair to intricately compare a book to its cinematic counterpart; they’re two different ways of storytelling.” That’s the difference, I think. Some people won’t like it because it’s not their style, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t do its job.

  4. Very excited to see the movie now, after reading this review. I got a chill when you described the NY skyline and haunting bar of Empire State of Mind. I think that using present-day “emotion triggers” (noun) can very successfully trigger, for the contemporary person, what the person in the past would have felt.

  5. Pingback: The Great Gatsby: Fitzgerald’s novel and Luhrmann’s film « Amy's Appendix

  6. SOOOOOOOOOOO glad you liked it. I get bummed when I read bad reviews since I haven’t seen yet and totally want to.

    Great review.

  7. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m looking forward to the film because I’ve been a huge fan of the Baz Luhrmann aesthetic since Moulin Rouge but I know his films are not for everyone. I feel like I need to re-read the book because I don’t remember the story at all 😦 Something about an East Egg? When I’m on the north shore of Long Island, I try to determine where the eggs are located. That Lana Del Ray song has been haunting me for a few weeks now. It’s gorgeous.

  8. I liked the book a lot and read it recently to be able to watch the film, so I’m definitely looking forward to it. I’m surprised by the trailers, but if the idea is to modernise it overall and it works, that might not be a bad thing. I think I’ll go read those bad reviews, it often makes your own experience better.

  9. Have read the book twice. Seen the movie with Redford in it. Loved the new one with Leo. Love the whole experience. The best.

  10. Great review – haven’t seen the film yet, but posted a blog about Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby last week, and am always keen to hear what people have thought of the new adaptation.

  11. Confession: I’ve never read Gatsby. Shocking and horrible, I know! I’ve read a few of his other works, but somehow missed this. Need to fix that!

  12. I felt the same and loved rereading it in conjunction with the movie. I also think it was different to go into it with the mindset of wanting to be entertained. I wasn’t trying to be critical and I think that helped me relax and enjoy it.

  13. Have you seen the new film? Which do you prefer Redford or DiCaprio? Personally I enjoyed Redford. Felt like the newer version doesn’t require one to read it to understand it. I also didn’t think Gatsby to be as arrogant as DiCaprio depicted.

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