The other day I went to this great little macaroon store around the corner from my house and I had a buttered popcorn-flavored macaroon. Buttered popcorn, especially the kind you get at the movies, and baked goods are two of my favorite things in the whole wide world, so the combination of the two had to be great, right? Well, the Orville Redenfaker cookie didn’t really taste like my favorite Cineplex treat. It was salty and the taste was sort of based on popcorn, but it was totally different. However, it was still delicious, because it had the flavor profile (God, I sound like a Top Chef rerun) but a totally different mouth feel (shoot me now). It was great. And when I had real actual popcorn a few days later, it made me appreciate that even more after the strange facsimile I’d had previously.
The Great Gatsby novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald is the popcorn in this extended metaphor and The Great Gatsby movie by Baz Luhrman is the sacriligeous macaroon. Before the movie even opened this weekend, countless literature lovers have opined on Facebook and Twitter and at cocktail parties (which is like IRL Facebook and Twitter, but with more booze and without the reverberating echo) that trying to adapt the movie is some sort of personal offense that would cause every copy of the book to spontaneously combust. Like making a movie based on the high school junior year staple would somehow ruin something that is considered the “great American novel.” All of these people need to shut up.
First of all this is a tired reaction that every fan of a book has when studio execs attempt to adapt it into a movie. Enough already. We get it, smarty pants, you’re outraged that vile Hollywood wants to capitalize on this brilliant thing and destroy it forever. Fill your fan forums up with something else, because this argument is as tired as Lindsay Lohan’s parole officer on rehab check-in day. Secondly, the book and the movie based on the book are two different things. They are popcorn and a popcorn cookie. You will never mistake one for the other and consuming one won’t make anyone think that they don’t have to bother with consuming the other.
As soon as everyone understands that these two objects can exist simultaneously in the universe based on their own merits, we’ll all be OK. Comics fans learned decades ago that the Spider-Man movies have nothing to do with the quality or sanctity of the Spider-Man comics. And don’t get us started when they get all the reboots, TV series, and cartoons. Bookworms should learn what geeks have known forever: loving a character in one format often leads to loving it in another. What is so bad about a movie driving people to your favorite book? Are those readers somehow less pure or something?
Plenty of idiots still waiting to get to 12th grade will watch the movie thinking that it will tell them everything they need to know to write their term paper. Yes, they’ll get the plot, but they’ll miss the substance, the beauty of the language, and all the extra special treats you get from reading the book. But they weren’t going to read it anyway. It’s not your problem to save them. Their ignorance is thier own punishment.
Everyone who has already read it, how does a movie version harm your memory of having read and enjoyed the book? It does not. Hollywood has been churning out adaptations since it was nothing but a glimmering desert wasteland in Louie B. Mayer’s eye and somehow, miraculously, litearture is still alive and well.
In fact watching the movie version, much like eating that crazy cookie, can make the work of literature you love even better. You’ve been thinking about that book so long and hard, you’ve only seen it one way. A movie made by a director (a piece of art inspired by another piece of art) lets you see what another great thinker saw in his head when he was reading. You may agree, you may disagree. You may think that his vision is full of s**t and that there is no way that Tobey Maguire looks like Nick Carraway, but that will make you reexamine your own thesis. It might prove you wrong and make you reexamine the way you’ve always interpreted a scene or character or it may be so wrong that you rage against it and it only strengthens your original idea of the text.
I’m not saying you have to like the movie. In fact, you are welcome to go see it and tell everyone why it is a steaming pile of s**t if you want. You can love it as well, but go and see the damn thing before you make any sort of judgment against it. Don’t judge the movie by the book cover! Or, if you want to preserve the schoolhouse sanctity of your memory, don’t go see it at all. That’s fine too.
But don’t rage against the idea of it. That’s just as stupid as writing your English AP essay based on the Demi Moore version of The Scarlet Letter. Just be at peace with the fact that no matter what you say and do, novels will turn into films and some will be great and some will be lousy. Give some of them a shot and you might at least enjoy the popcorn – and maybe even the cookie that tastes nothing like it.