UPDATE: To read my review of The Great Gatsby (2013), CLICK HERE.
Well… not yet. But seldom has a movie generated so much buzz even before it is made. The debates take on several fronts.
First off, there’s this argument of whether we need another Gatsby adaptation. There have been three full feature film versions of the classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, as early as 1926, then in 1949. The most familiar for us modern day viewers is the 1974, Francis Ford Coppola screenplay, Robert Redford and Mia Farrow version. So more than thirty years now. It would be interesting to see what a 21st century interpretation is like.
Then there’s the cast. It’s been reported that Leonardo DiCaprio is the new Jay Gatsby, Tobey Maguire the narrator Nick Carraway, and stirring the frenzy, director Baz Luhrmann’s announcement of Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan.
I’m totally delighted with the cast selection. While he may not be very convincing as an aging Howard Hughes (The Aviator, 2004), DiCaprio could make a very natural Jay Gatsby. Tobey Maguire’s quiet, observant demeanor, like his role in Cider House Rules (1999), would be a suitable Nick Carraway, although he might not have the poise as Sam Waterston back in 1974.
I’m all for Carey Mulligan, but still I feel she would have to fight against type to play Daisy Buchanan. Far from the innocent school girl in An Education, or the caring and sensitive Kathy in Never Let Me Go, it could be a challenge to portray a frivolous and capricious Daisy. But if she could beat out names such as Natalie Portman, Abbie Cornish, Michelle Williams, Blake Lively, Scarlett Johansson, Amanda Seyfried, Rebecca Hall and Kiera Knightly in her audition to get the part, I trust she has what it takes to deliver. I’m excited to see her given a chance to extend further her acting talents.
That leaves us with the debate of whether the new interpreter could do Fitzgerald’s novel justice. Director Baz Luhrmann’s previous works seem to embody a Gatsby house party: Moulin Rouge (2001), Strictly Ballroom (1992), Australia (2008), and his very postmodern take of Romeo + Juliet (1996), which, I admit, is one of the few movies that I had to quit watching after the first 15 minutes.
The online arguments against Luhrmann’s directing surround his over-the-top and superficial renditions of his previous movies. His ability to translate the layered and nuanced descriptions of this literary classic into film is challenged outright.
That leads us to a more fundamental issue. In my review of the film The Hedgehog (2009), one reader has left this thought-provoking question in the comment:
Is it possible that, no matter how well or poorly the job is done, there are some books that simply don’t make the transition from print to film with their essence intact?
As the postmodernists would have it, books and films are two different textual entities. Fidelity is no longer something to strive for, but the appreciation of intertexuality. Both ought to be taken in its own right, can’t be literally tranlated, can’t be compared. And if Barthes has the final say, you just have to take it as is with whatever Luhrmann brings us since that’s his interpretation. The author is dead… here literally and metaphorically.
No matter what, I won’t judge before it’s even being made. Nonetheless, I do have a few words to appeal to Mr. Luhrmann:
Please don’t waste a talented cast, and a brilliant literary work. Offer us quality and depth of interpretations and not just the frothy splendour of the Jazz Age. Consider lines like these and create the complexity and ambivalence in your characters:
I wanted to get out and walk eastward toward the park through the soft twilight, but each time I tried to go I became entangled in some wild, strident argument which pulled me back, as if with ropes, into my chair. Yet high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.
While there’s no doubt you are capable of capturing the “gleaming, dazzling parties,” reveal also the undercurrents of anxiety, sadness, and ennui. And in the midst of the seeming conviviality, give us the nuanced actions of inner quest, the search for real relationship in a mansion of party crashers, and the lingering hope of love:
A wafer of a moon was shining over Gatsby’s house, making the night fine as before, and surviving the laughter and the sound of his still glowing garden. A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host, who stood on the porch, his hand up in a formal gesture of farewell.
And above all, do justice to Jay Gatsby, honor his deep devotion for his love and not mock his attempt. For behind the façade of materials and wealth, he is the one with the heart. Show us how “the vague contour of Jay Gatsby had filled out to the substantiality of a man.”
Remember, it is the heart that gratifies your viewers, not the glitz and glamour.
And please, not a musical.