I very clearly remember reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in my eleventh grade literature class, which was taught by a man named Mr. Jackson who wore a different tie nearly everyday (if by chance you’re reading this, thank you for teaching me that school reading didn’t have to be awful). The book was on our list of assigned readings for the class, squeezed between things like Moby Dick, Ethan Frome, and The Scarlet Letter. This book is very special to me. It was the first book I ever enjoyed reading in school, and it came to me during a time when I very much needed a great story. It’s an odd thing to think about honestly, since I never expected the book to have such an impact on me. I’m not going to give away the story here, since you may want to see the movie having not read the book, but I really really suggest that you read the story first.
When I first read the story, I related a lot to Nick Carraway; I still do. He’s one of the first characters who ever really drew me in. He was so simple and normal, an outsider, or as he likes to say “both within and without”. It was interesting for me to read about someone who, like me, often feels like they’re the one watching the great and mysterious person live their extraordinary life. Nick tells Gatsby’s story, and I often feel like I’m the one telling the story of other great people when I write. It’s not as easy for me to relate to the great and extraordinary one, but I can easily relate to Nick, watching as the great one’s mystery unfolds. I’m drawn in by the mysteries and secrets of Gatsby, as I think we all are.
That being said, when I heard that they were making a film version of the novel, I was uneasy. I heard that Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire were playing Jay and Nick, and that made absolute sense to me. I couldn’t really think of anyone better to play Gatsby, and Nick’s casting was fine by me. The cast of the film overall was very well chosen in my opinion. The general idea is that Nick is thrust into Gatsby’s luxurious life, and I think DiCaprio and Maguire portray that gap very well. After seeing the film, I didn’t really have many issues with the casting. I thought Leonardo DiCaprio did an incredible job at portraying Gatsby. I don’t think anyone else could have done it as well.
As with any book to movie adaptation, there are going to be differences. I tried to watch the movie as an outsider. I tried to be both within and without at the same time, looking at it with fresh eyes but also with my prior knowledge of the story. As a film, I think it succeeds at telling it’s story well. As an adaptation, there are a few things I could have done without, and most of them have to do with the music in the film. I understand that Baz Luhrmann was trying to add some modern twist to the story by including a lot of rap music in the film but I found it kind of distracting. Also, Lana Del Rey plays during a romantic scene which made me want to vomit a little. The only other complaint I have is the constant CGI-ed scenery everywhere. I didn’t see it in 3D, so maybe that had something to do with it, but the scenery almost looked cartoon-like, a little too perfect. It didn’t look like a real place, but then again they could have been going for that storybook look.
The novel is one of my favorites of all time, and the film adaptation was definitely worth seeing. The story of Jay Gatsby is one that I want everyone to hear, and if that means Jay-Z is going to help tell it, then that’s okay with me. It’s a beautiful and haunting story, one that will stick with you long after you hear it, and I think if a movie adaptation will get more people to see the film or maybe even read the book, then I give it my support. Have you seen Gatsby yet? Did you read the book? Feel free to let me know what you thought down below!