Great expectations for Gatsby

There is one book of “required” reading that shaped my literary experience in high school. Assigned during my sophomore year, this book helped me to decide the path that I would take in college, and though I didn’t know it at the time, the type of person I would become later in life (book nerd and lit lover to the core). Already a lot of pressure for one little novella, The Great Gatsby has now been adapted into what looks to be the big blockbuster of the year, due out this Christmas. (Not to be confused with the 1974 film starring Robert Redford.)

Directed by Baz Luhrman, who is best known for Moulin Rouge (which I don’t like) and Romeo + Juliet (which I LOVE), there were already a lot of opinions about this film flying around in my head before the preview even debuted.

These are my feelings, these are my questions:

  • Is the actor going to match up to what I pictured while reading?
  • There are parts that are going to be left out. What parts are going to be left out?
  • Nick Carraway, how will you be portrayed? How reliable will Tobey make you appear?
  • Is the whole mise-en-scène going to be a little askew from the world that has already been constructed in my head? The colors had better be spot on. Somehow.
  • How many times am I going to feel the need to cut my hair short a la Daisy a.k.a. Carey Mulligan?
  • Is this the year Leo finally wins an Oscar? Please, let it be.
  • Is the modern music going to clash too much with the time frame of the story? How futuristic does it need to get?
  • Please don’t let the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg be lame. Please, please, please.

But, the trailer is out, and I’ve got a lot of thoughts, a lot of things on my mind.

I swear I held my breath through the entirety of the first viewing. But, the official trailer is actually over 2:00 long, so there’s no way that’s accurate. The music and the glitz, it was all so sexy and provocative. (And please, let’s just not get started on the typography!) It was nothing like I had imagined when I read it in tenth grade. Because in tenth grade, in my head, the parties were extravagant but proper. Nothing so sensual as this. Here, in this preview, everything was wrong. And at the same time, it was all perfect.

This movie, though not my take on Gatsby, was offering me an entirely new interpretation of the text. It was a little lens into someone else’s carefully constructed Gatsby world, it’s what they saw as they read it. And they were inviting me in—John Malkovich style. Although, with so much focus on parties and alcohol and little to none on the complexity of Gatsby as a man, it is hard to imagine this film capturing the entirety of the book in roughly two and half hours (give or take).

But let’s remember a few things:

  • It’s only a preview, the glitz is there to get people interested—not only those who have not read the book, but especially those who have (So that they may hem and haw and create controversy and wild claims of “I’ll never see this!” but still go see the movie anyway).
  • It’s only a preview, the whole movie can’t possibly fit into 2:26, no matter what quality you choose to view it in.
  • It will never be the book you read, or the experience you had the first time you read it. 

But it will be the movie you saw and the experience you had the first time you saw it. And if you can think of those things existing both separate and together at the same time—this movie living in your book world and Luhrman’s—that is the true magic of film adaptation. One informs the other, without replacing it.

Captured Dreams

Interview: Jay D. Peterson