I’m not sure if one can be addicted to literature, or to the abstract theories and opinions of said works, but if so, I’m in need of a support group and a 12-step plan.
I could give you a full rundown of Caryl Churchill’s feminist agenda, Chuck Palahniuk’s anti-consumerism imagery and a working argument naming Hamlet one of Shakespeare’s most pro-active and hilarious characters to ever exist, all before the appetizers arrive. However, I have recently found a new argumentative vice, and it is of course, Big Baz’s Gatsby.
The overwhelming media attention the book and film have received in the past year because of Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation makes the inner rebel in me hesitant to claim The Great Gatsby as my favorite book. But who am I kidding? I’ve read the thing cover to cover over 10 times. In my mind, there is no text superior to the legend that F. Scott Fitzgerald created in 1925. I feel it is my duty as a devout Gatsby groupie to tell you why all of the critics who have trashed the movie are ﬂamingly false.
The problem here is that most critics have ignored major components of both the novel and film in their reviews, and to paraphrase Einstein, we can’t be judging ﬁsh on their tree-climbing abilities. First, as I mentioned before, this ﬁlm is an adaptation. To adapt means to make suitable for a new use or purpose. There is no way to translate a book exactly to the big screen. This is primarily because there is neither enough time, nor is it possible for a director to match every reader’s individual understanding of the text. Gatsby has been made into a ﬁlm six times, and Baz Luhrmann needed to make this adaptation of Gatsby unique.
Unique is also a way to describe Luhrmann. Any ﬁlm buff can recognize his work in an instant. He has his own style just like Tarantino and the Coen brothers. If you were to go into the new Gatsby expecting Robert Redford in a white suit while a soft jazz number plays in the background, you’re in for a surprise. This movie is abstract art — it is not literal, classical or straightforward by any means.
When we meet Daisy in the novel, Fitzgerald describes the wind as it “blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale ﬂags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.” This is the kind of imagery Baz is working with here, people; get with it. To do these fantastic, romantic images justice, he’s got to have one hell of an artistic vision.
And Luhrmann knows how to throw a party. Those who claim the festivities at Gatsby’s mansion were overdone must have missed Nick’s descriptions of Gatsby’s soirees. Luhrmann did not overstretch his creative license by throwing in a couple swimming pools and a few hundred dancing attendees. The ﬁlm’s soundtrack, produced by hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, has been criticized for being too modern, which is perhaps the most frustrating hater-ade. This ﬁlm wouldn’t have worked with a classical jazz soundtrack. For example: The scene in Tom Buchanan’s apartment was breathtaking because it was a genuine, hot, sweaty, drunken mess. Tell me, Isla Vista — how can you argue that “Into the Past” by Nero was inappropriately featured in that scene? None of you hooligans can deny that raging dubstep makes for a great party.
As great as the parties were, the most outstanding feature of this ﬁlm is the incredible acting. Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan was just enough of a pompous, vulgar brute to make him and his love for Daisy the foil to Gatsby. Edgerton’s Tom succeeds because he has a protective and conﬁdent air about him that shows how Daisy, among others in the film, could be enamored with him. Tobey Maguire is a cutie. I think he was sincerely engaging enough to elicit empathy and trust from the audience, as Nick Carraway does in the original text. Daisy may be one of the most difﬁcult acting challenges a woman could face, up there with Blanche DuBois and Lady Macbeth, and Carey Mulligan does it with both grace and ease. The ﬁnal ensemble scene at the plaza sealed the deal for me — her pain, frustration and fear, all bundled into a few streaming tears and a slight shudder of the shoulders, was truly mesmerizing.
And last, I will avoid obsessively praising the wonder that is Leonardo DiCaprio. In brief, he brought something to Gatsby that I have never encountered before. He clearly and honestly demonstrates Gatsby’s absolute commitment to Daisy and their life together. It was an impeccable performance.
I understand why someone who loves the book could have been disappointed. There was an overall lack of development in Nick’s character and a near complete omission of the love affair he had with Jordan. There were some cheesy shots of ﬁreworks and googly-eyed Tobey Maguire that seemed a bit overdone; I’m not personally into 3-D, so that felt superﬂuous.
However, in terms of adapting this novel (which I personally believe is too perfect for its own good) into a visually and emotionally stimulating experience, Luhrmann accomplished the near impossible.
Nika Burnett is a second-year acting and philosophy double major.
A version of this article appeared on page 8 of the May 28, 2013 print edition of the Nexus.
Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.