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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is the quintessential “great American novel”. Its themes, characters, and meanings are timeless. It is still taught in high schools nationwide, and will continue to do so for years to come. But with a story so entrenched in our national identity, why has it been so difficult to make a film adaptation of The Great Gatsby? One would think that the movie would make itself, but so far nothing has been really welcomed into film canon.
Now we get to Baz Luhrmann’s incredibly ambitious take on the classic novel, and something tells me the director realized that, for whatever reason, this is a difficult novel to film. Instead of really focusing on deepening the characters or examining what makes these people tick, Luhrmann plays to his strengths and explores more of the visual flair and feel of Gatsby’s world. And, on that level, this film very much succeeds.
However, Gatsby’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Because the emphasis is on style over substance, the story very much suffers as a result. The movie’s pace is excellent, but there I really felt there were times it needed to slow down so viewers could actually understand and absorb what was going on and unfolding.
Personally, I think Luhrmann ran with the assumption that audiences were already familiar with The Great Gatsby’s tale, and because of that, he did not feel the need to dwell on it overly so. The characters are already iconic, right? Why should he go into retreading ground everyone already knows?
Therein lays the problem. Because the movie, as faithful as it is, does not mine the source material as well is it can or should, does not give the audience a reason to care about anything. Why should care whether or not Daisy and Gatsby get together in the end? The movie does not examine their relationship. It is very superficial. If someone never ready The Great Gatsby, I doubt they would enjoy this movie at all. And it is a shame, because this is a talented cast of people (speaking of which, while Leonardo DiCaprio was perfectly cast as the titular Gatsby, the real find was Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan).
For the record, I enjoyed this movie for what it was. But, I cannot deny that it has some fundamental flaws that are going to turn off many others. The flair and emotion are there, but the characters are a bit one-dimensional at times. Again, The Great Gatsby is an incredibly hard novel to adapt, and Luhrmann took on an ambitious project. For that, I salute his efforts (to be honest, this is probably the best adaptation yet). Perhaps in another twenty years or so, when someone else undoubtedly tries again, we’ll get a Gatsby that will truly be great.