Friday, September 6, 2013

Friday Face-Off: The Great Gatsby

All right. Here's the movie trailer:

Let's talk characters:
Gatsby: Movie version by Leonardo DiCaprio. Leonardo did a fine job... I guess, but he wasn't my Gatsby. In the book, my Gatsby wasn't portrayed as a fallen hero, but a symbol of the entire hollow and rotten culture. He is 'great' in his deception, obsession, and foolishness in falling for the myth that money makes a man.
Daisy: Carey Mulligan wasn't as terrible as I anticipated. I liked her hands, but the Daisy from the book was all about voice. Voice vs. hands. hm. In the movie, she's vulnerable, sweet, beguiling, in the book, she looks vulnerable, sweet and beguiling, but she's possibly the most manipulative, cold, calculating character in the world. She wants her husband's mistress to pay, and so she does along with everyone else.

Nick: Nick irritated me the most, in fact, here's where the movie really lost me. At the beginning of the movie, Nick is an alcoholic in an asylum  talking to a doctor. I'm sure the imagery is magnificent, but that is making Nick into F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author of 'The Great Gatsby", and while they are both writers, I always felt that the character most like the author was Gatsby himself.

In the book I always thought that Nick was the conscience that couldn't save the idealist/romantic/alcoholic Gatsby, anymore than Fitzgerald's conscience could save him. I wanted more than anything for Nick to be the right person, to be in opposition to the world he witnessed. He wasn't. He wasn't the conscience, he was the alcoholic. He succumbed. He fell. He was part of the tawdry.

Perhaps this leads to theme. In the book, the title is 'the Great Gatsby', but Gatsby is never that great. He's better than the Buchannans and their purely evil machinations of everyone around them, but he's not 'great'. The 'great' is more of a cynical commentary on the rise and fall of someone who bases their 'greatness' on a purely synthetic life. Gatsby was the great liar whose fall exposed the rest of the society as the hollow shell it was.

The movie's theme seemed to try and make Gatsby's obsessive love somehow noble, the way he spent money was supposed to be beautiful, and rising to the top, destroying other people's lives in the process showed hope and perseverance instead of selfishness and egocentrism. The process of Nick writing Gatsby's story was supposed to somehow heal his soul, as he remembered the 'greatness' of Gatsby.

Visually, the movie had a great deal of flash and bang, and while some scenes were terribly beautiful, such as the shirt scene, it can't compete with the lyrical use of Fitzgerald's own prose. It seemed that the movie showed a great deal that lacked substance, which maybe was ironic, maybe perfect, but utterly unsatisfying.

I don't understand the movie's use of race to define characters, or perhaps it was used as something else. Race and class distinction could be huge issues during the '20's, but all I got were snapshots that left me confused as to the position of the director. One of my least favorite scenes was where they're all rushing across a bridge and pass a car holding wealthy black people who are dancing around in their backseat while their white gloved black driver takes them somewhere. Perhaps the emphasis was on class distinction rather than race, but to show such opulence pitted against servitude rubbed me all wrong. I'm not sure why they used that imagery, or what they were trying to portray.

If you can't tell by now, I found the movie failed dramatically to match the book. With a classic, it's really difficult for anyone to succeed, but no excuses.
3-1 Book wins hands down.

If you haven't read it yet, do yourself a favor.

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