…The Great Gatsby again. When I heard the movie was coming out, I intentionally refrained from re-reading the book. I didn’t want the fresh memory of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s prose to be constantly on my mind while trying to enjoy Luhrmann’s interpretation.
And enjoy it, I did. Although, I have to say, I felt to a certain extent that all the characters were a lot younger than I, although technically they were only one or two years younger. Maybe because Baz Luhrmann for me will always be synonymous with “Romeo + Juliet.” Maybe because the characters were reaching life points that I encountered in my early twenties rather than my early thirties. More on that later.
One of the reasons the book constantly holds my attention is the extreme unreliability of the narrator, Nick Carraway. There are so many questions about him – does he truly believe the bullshit that goes on around him? What possesses him/fascinates him/drives him off the deep end? Does Gatsby tease out something that already existed in him, or is it simply the same reflection of Gatsby that shines in everyone who happens to drift closer to him?
At first, I thought Tobey Maguire was not the right choice for this character. After the movie was over and I was walking back to the barracks, I was mulling over his awkward poses, his indecision, the fact that he doesn’t seem to question anything that happens to him without actually ever acting on something external to him. But, thinking about it more this morning, I think he was probably the right choice to play Nick. Maybe not the only choice, but a good one.
When I was younger (read “high school English class”) I loved this book for the prose, for the mysterious world of adults who were unlike any adults I’d ever known (keep in mind, this is before 24-hour reality television – not that we actually had television when I was growing up, before the Kardashians – whoever they are, and the closest cultural metaphor to Gatsby and the people orbiting around him that I could think of would be the Kennedys.) I’ve re-read the book since, but my interpretation hadn’t shifted past that first high school reading.
Watching this movie, I was struck by the urge to re-read the book, this time not for those things I already knew existed in it, but because I’m now a few years older than the characters in the book. Their decisions – not the big ones, like to become a gangster or buy a big house in the Hamptons, but the little ones, like to pursue something already lost, to try to re-invent oneself for someone else, to choose to orbit someone else’s light because you’ve never found the path to your own – are either decisions I’ve made, decisions I’ve regretted, or decisions I’m avoiding.
I enjoyed the movie. It is not as enduring/iconic compared to other movies as the book The Great Gatsby is to other books. I refuse to compare the movie to the book – apples to oranges, and that way leads to disappointment and dissatisfaction. But I enjoyed it. It showed familiar things to me in new ways, and that is what I ask from movies based on other source material.
And, the soundtrack was pretty cool, too.