When I list books that changed my life, The Great Gatsby tops the list. By the time I read it in high school, I already knew I wanted to be a writer and had since third grade when I tried to write my first novel (it was about horses because my best friend drew crazy good horses). But I remember the exact line in Fitzgerald’s novel when I fell in love with words in a different way:
“The late afternoon sky bloomed in the window for a moment like the blue honey of the Mediterranean.”
It’s a simple sentence, yet so much happens: simile and metaphor, color symbolism, and his implied time element (isn’t the story, after all, about what can happen for just a moment?). It’s a glorious piece of writing.
And so it is with great trepidation that I anticipate Baz Luhrmann’s anachronistic adaptation. I admit I have not seen the movie and I am trying to refrain from judging before I do; that being said, I have a feeling they picked the wrong guy to bring this once more to the screen.
A few years ago I was reading an interview with Jack Nicholson where they asked him what role he missed out on that he regretted. His answer was losing out on Jay Gatsby to Robert Redford. Just reading the sentence, I cringed. Nicholson as Gatsby? Granted this was before he became a caricature of himself, back when he was doing Reds and China Town. Still–Nicholson? Then I read his reasoning. He explained that the problem with Redford was that he was Jay Gatsby, but he was not James Gatz. Robert Redford represented the illusion of what Jay Gatsby should be without being the man James Gatz actually was. He saw himself as James Gatz.
I’d never thought about it that way, but for some reason the idea resonated with me. The book is about illusion, deceit, and identity. Based on the previews, Luhrmann has taken the illusion part of the story to eleven. My concern is that as a director he is one who favors style over substance. His movies explode visually in a chaos of color and sound; however, he seems to fear silence and stillness. Flappers swirling on trapezes, a Jay-Z soundtrack, fireworks–this is the illusion of Gatsby. Does Luhrmann have the self-control and temperance to tell the story behind the illusion without making the film about the very things Fitzgerald attempted to critique? I’m not sure.
On one hand I’m excited for the visual escapism of it; on the other, I have a feeling that I should not view the film as a representation of the spirit of the book lest I be disappointed. But isn’t that usually the rule with adaptations?