Books vs Films: The Great Gatsby

By Charles Armitage

A common complaint within the film community at the moment is, when a book is adapted for the cinema, the producers and director change and leave out parts of the book in order to make the film more fitting for a modern audience. This causes outrage to loyal fans of the book who miss out on properly experiencing their novel on screen. For instance, the 2009 action movie Sherlock Holmes seems to have misinterpreted how violent and prone to action Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson really were in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law do not use the powers of deduction as often as they use their fists and guns to solve a problem in the movie. This troubled many fans, myself included, at the “Americanisation” of the movie as in the original stories of Sherlock Holmes, although it is hinted he was a good fighter, did not see the need to use violence all the time as the 2009 movie portrayed.

Movies and books do not often stick to each others storyline, however, when they do, as proved in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby, the results are positive. The movie sticks to the storyline, character development and overall flow of the original text which produces an aesthetically pleasing spectacle with fantastic acting from Leonardo DiCaprio, as the titular character, and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway. The emotions that are conveyed through their performances really shine through and encapsulate the struggle Gatsby felt in the 1925 novel of the same name. Maguire comes across very likeable and it can be said he steals the “protagonist” label from DiCaprio as his character is the one we, as an audience, relate to and sympathise with the most even though he is the narrator of the novel as he is telling the story from his first person perspective.

Luhrmann takes great inspiration from the novel, keeping to the original plot, using direct quotes, and emphasising key plot points. This is not to say, however, that the novel and movie are 100% identical. There are some occasions where Luhrmann has missed Fitzgerald’s main argument. For example, a famous quote from the book is when the author writes “’Can’t repeat the past?’ [Gatsby] cried incredulously. ‘Why of course you can!’” However, DiCaprio delivers this line in a sort of whisper, much different from crying out “incredulously”. Another thing that troubled audiences is Luhrmann’s portrayal of the 1920s as glamorous and a general prosperous era to be living in. This is not what Fitzgerald wanted to say, however, as the novel criticises the 1920s and the people’s habits during this time. But, because Luhrmann directs the movie in such a way, it comes across as very flaunting and overblown, which although is entertaining to watch, may not make the original author very happy.

Nick’s romance with Jordan is also never explored in the movie as well as it could have done, possibly due to the fact that this could take away the spotlight of Gatsby and Daisy’s relationship. The decision to use modern music also seems an odd choice. The film is set in the 1920s yet we hear Jay-Z and Lana Del Rey music being used. This could suggest that the continuity of the time period does not matter, so if that is the case, then Nick could be writing his story on an iPad and not a typewriter.

Overall, both the book and movie are entertaining and produced with such a high level of quality that it is very hard for me to decide which is better. My earlier complaint about how the message of the movie is not faithful to the message of the book is just about enough for me to say that I personally prefer the book to the film, but I guess it depends on whether that is important to you or not when going to a movie adapted from a book.

Image From The New York Times

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