Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby was never going to be perfect. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel is a cornerstone of most American teenagers’ introduction into literature, a deeply subtle book that’s so nuanced and delicate, it’s as if it was specifically built to resist filmmakers. Luhrmann’s 3D film, while diverting, cannot escape this obstacle.
Conveying the ways in which Jay Gatsby’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) “romance” with Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) is a figment of his own ambition is essential to the story. As is the sheer capitalist nature of Gatsby’s infatuation, his own imperfection, and the unreliability of a narrator who so deeply admires Gatsby in every way. All of these elements dance lightly and deliberately to create a man who serves as the embodiment of the dangers of the American Dream. In the romantic, splashy summer blockbuster, those subtle elements are replaced by broad, bright brushstrokes that tell us when to think and feel, but wind up missing the heart and soul of Fitzgerald’s tragic novel.
Now, I’m not an insane bookworm hell-bent on taking down films that attempt to bastardize the bound works of great women and men. I understand that a film is an interpretation of a book, and that inherently, they cannot be identical. The film can, however, be faithful. And while DiCaprio was working his darndest to hold onto the soul of the book, there are four things Luhrmann could have kept from the text to make that process a whole lot easier:
The Elevator Scene That Spurred a Thousand English Essays At the press junket for The Great Gatsby at the Plaza in New York, DiCaprio spoke about the weight of a project such as Gatsby. “It’s American Shakespeare,” he said. There are similarities in the deliberate nature of both Shakespeare’s works and Fitzgeralds. Both writers wrote brief compositions, rendering every last syllable a precious one. Therefore, no paragraph – no matter how tiny – is insignificant. Every moment means something.
It’s funny then, that one of the most discussed scenes in the book was missing from Luhrmann’s film. After Nick (played by Tobey Maguire in the movie) goes on a bender with Tom and his mistress Myrtle (Isla Fisher), Nick leaves the party with a Mr. McKee, though he was presumably expected to get loose with Myrtle’s flirtatious sister. When they step into the elevator, the operator asks Mr. McKee to stop touching the lever, and when McKee replies he didn’t know he was touching it, there’s a tinge of homoerotic tension that has confounded readers for years. That moment is followed by pregnant ellipses that lead to Nick, standing in his underwear next to McKee’s bed while McKee shows him his photographs.
In the film, this becomes Nick making out savagely with Myrtle’s sister and waking up in his underwear on his own front porch. The simplficication of the scene drums up a bit of an issue for some interpretations of the novel: this potentially gay or bisexual interlude makes us question Nick’s narration as a reader. When he’s singing these bombastic praises of Gatsby, we have to wonder how much of his description is affected by his affection for Gatsby, and by bringing up this potential question of sexual preference, we could question just how far that affection goes.
It’s not essential to the plot, but it would help the film to convey the deeper complexities of the friendship between Gatsby and Nick, which is, in a way, the heart of the novel.
Daisy Buchanan is Not That Innocent Hooking mass audiences for a period piece of this size and scale without a sweeping romance would be near impossible. And serving up Daisy exactly as she is written is problematic; she’s a lot harder to fall in love with when we’re aware of her true nature. But Daisy isn't a wolf in doe’s clothing. She has affection for and at times, definitely loves Gatsby, but it’s shallow. It’s something Mulligan’s more sympathetic Daisy skirts a bit. Her Daisy is more of a victim of a bird cage built by her surroundings than a woman whose heart simply isn’t as big as her engrossing personality suggests.
In the book, we see this when Daisy visits with her daughter when Gatsby comes to the Buchanans’ home for lunch. She plays with the child, remarks at how beautiful she is, and then sends her away with her nanny. The child isn’t a part of her soul, something most mothers can’t bear to live without. Instead, the sunny little imp is her plaything, and she comes out when it suits her and goes back to her surrogate mother when Daisy is done.
Adding this moment into the film might have made Daisy unlikeable, which wouldn’t work for Luhrmann’s set up of the big moment in which Tom finds out Gatsby and Daisy have been canoodling at Gatsby’s mansion. However, it would have made the scene more true and far less soapy. When Daisy says she loved Tom and she loved Gatsby, Gatsby’s world is shattered by the disapperance of Daisy as his one true North. How could she love both of them? Could it be, she’s not who he thinks she is? But but it's not until this point and the subsquent scene in which Daisy runs over Myrtle that we can really make the film's Daisy out to be what she really is. The book makes quicker work of it.
Even in the famous shirt-throwing scene, in which Daisy cries “I’ve never seen – I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts before” as Gatsby showers her with his expensive shirts as a means of proving his wealth, Mulligan’s portrayal of the scene makes it seem as though she’s crying about her missed time with Gatsby. In the book, that scene plays with uncertainty: it’s possible that she’s really just upset she missed out on the greater wealth on Gatsby’s side of the bay.
Luhrmann softened Daisy so she wouldn’t put audiences off, but in the end, it means the film is working with a shell of the character that should be Gatsby’s undoing.
Tom Is Not The Devil Part of the reason Daisy is so forgivable in this film is that her husband Tom (Joel Edgerton) is so God awful. Whereas Tom was always a bad guy in the novel (cheating on one’s wife constantly isn’t exactly the most admirable of traits, nor is Tom’s rampant racism), he’s a super villain in Luhrmann's film.
The biggest issues are Tom’s moment with Myrtle’s husband following her death and the scene in which Daisy and Tom ignore Nick’s invitation to Gatsby’s funeral.
The moment with Myrtle’s husband Wilson is changed from the novel, expunging Wilson’s fact-finding mission leading him to Gatsby’s pool (where he murders the young billionaire), and instead has Tom practically place the tools for murder into Wilson’s greased up hands like some sort of plot-quickening pixie. In the book, Tom simply tells Wilson the car that killed his wife was yellow (which is what leads him, independently, to Gatsby), but in the film, Tom takes on a persona not unlike Billy Zane’s crass billionaire in Titanic. He tells Wilson outright that Gatsby killed Myrtle, which sends Wilson right over to Gatsby’s in a plan so simple, you’d think Tom would do anything to get revenge on Gatsby. He’s gone from brutish husband to Wicked Willy tying Gatsby to the railroad tracks with one swift motion.
Instead of Gatsby’s downfall being a result of his own unwarranted, amoral fiscal ambition, it’s all because of Tom, who practically gave Wilson a map to Gatsby’s house and loaded his gun for him. That goes against the point of Gatsby’s character, which is to serve as a warning about the dangers of American ambition. Gatsby propelled himself towards his end, not some jealous husband.
Later, when Gatsby has died, Tom has Daisy and their daughter packed up and refusing Nick’s phone calls, but one longing look from Daisy as Tom orders the phone to be hung up signals that Tom has her in a sort of vice. She seems more a prisoner than a woman whose vapid charms ruined a man. She’s too sympathetic, Tom’s too evil, and Gatsby is too blameless.
The Ballad of Gatsby and Daisy Is Missing An Essential Element: Capitalism The passage in which Nick describes Gatsby falling in love with Daisy includes language so financial in nature that it exposes the truth of what Daisy represents for Gatsby. Swathed in romantic moments of longing for even a slight graze of Daisy’s hand, Nick says that Gatsby “had taken her under false pretenses” and later says that Gatsby didn’t know “how extraordinary a ‘nice’ girl could be,” suggesting that he’s traded in lesser ladies before Daisy.
While Gatsby winds up head over heels in love by the end of the passage, the phrasing is tinged with the idea of trading and goods. Gatsby moved up to a nice girl, a rich girl his station didn’t afford him before. And this idealistic, ambitious-to-a-fault young man fell in love with a beautiful girl, and more importantly he fell in love with what her requited love would mean for his life. He wouldn’t be some poor soldier from North Dakota. He would be man worthy of Daisy’s station by association.
It’s this dream that Gatsby is chasing as he builds his wealth through his gangster-esque activities. While he thinks he’s after Daisy, he’s truly after the success that Daisy represents. He’s in love with the success she represents. And while the film does convey Gatsby’s inability to feel satisfied upon reuniting with Daisy, the pervading question of money and how Daisy is just one rung of the ladder of Gatsby’s yearning for success is muddled and buried a bit by the beauty of a big screen romance.
Luhrmann’s Gatsby is beautiful. It’s fun. It’s an absolute spectacle. But it’s missing these subtle, yet monumental moments and had Luhrmann kept them in, we could be looking at a more dismaying, but far more faithful Gatsby.
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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.