I may have mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of The Great Gatsby and am surprised that, when there is so much fantastic American literature in the world, it is still hailed by some as The Great American Novel. It just left me feeling empty. I won’t rehash my reasons for this, Kathryn Schulz covers it very nicely in her article Why I Despise The Great Gatsbyfor anyone who is interested.
Last night was the box office opening for The Great Gatsby film in the UK. I went to see it in 3D at 7:45pm, pretty much peak cinema going time, in a usually busy cinema, but the screening was half empty. This suggested to me that this great American novel doesn’t translate so well for a UK audience, though it may just have been that people had better things to do.
Though Luhrmann stayed true to the text and made use of a lot of direct quotation in the film, I found that I liked it better than the book. Luhrmann had managed to invest the characters in the film with a small amount of emotional depth which was, for me, totally lacking in the book and at times injected a little humour. Visually, as you might expect from the director of Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge, it was stunning though the 3D effects occasionally left me feeling a little seasick, especially when lines from the text floated on the screen like snowflakes (maybe this was deliberate, we are all boats beating on against the current after all…). Watch it for the costumes if nothing else, they may be morally bankrupt, but I would love to attend a Gatsby party in a flapper dress.
The problem for me was, that despite the actors and director doing a fine job with the story that they’d been given, the slick production and a catchy soundtrack, the story was still the same. I couldn’t care about any of the characters, and felt a little repelled by Leonardo di Caprio’s obsessive Gatsby and his controlling fixations. The film was well made but I felt, as I did when I read the book, totally underwhelmed. I just couldn’t care enough. I was amazed that the woman next to me was snivelling and sniffing so loudly that she drowned out the credits, turning to her date and proclaiming, “It’s just so sad!” I wanted to ask her whether we’d just watched the same film.
Lit geeks will probably want to watch the film anyway, but I’d be interested to hear what anyone who has seen it thought of the narrative frame which sees Nick Carraway (played by Toby Maguire) writing The Great Gatsby while recovering in a sanatorium, a kind of Fitzgerald character.