Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Gatsby ... the great?

I've often commented that a movie will never, and can never, be better than the book upon which it is based.  But, in one particular instance, I have been proven wrong.

To start at the beginning, I never had to read The Great Gatsby in school.  I'm not sure how I missed it, or it me, whichever, but somehow it was never required reading in my English classes.  So, a few years ago, I decided to try to catch up on all those books that somehow I managed to avoid in school, Gatsby obviously being on that list.  Considering the general reception the novel is greeted with, I understandably had expectations.  I don't think that I've ever heard anyone say anything against it, never mind finding someone who didn't like it.  That, it seemed, would be almost like heresy.

As I read though, I became more and more frustrated.  Nothing about the characters made me like any of them.  And the language made them all so ... I don't know, pretentious?  I understand that there is a point to that impression, but I felt at least the narrator should have gotten some favourable impression from me.  Thankfully, the book is short, and I finished it with relief, becoming the only person I know who could say they honestly disliked it.  I felt it was a waste of my time having read it, except to be able to say that I had.  Even with a fluffy romance novel, I end up with a feeling of having enjoyed it, even if I don't take anything meaningful away from the experience.  I couldn't say that for Gatsby.  I was actually so disappointed, that I struck F. Scott Fitzgerald from the list of authors that I ever wanted to read.

Flash forward about a year, when I learn that Leonardo DiCaprio is starring in an adaptation of the book.  I enjoy Leo - I have since his first appearance on Growing Pains, with only a minor pause during the Titanic trend.  (I liked the movie, but not the hype and freakishness that went with it.)  Anyway, I believe I probably audibly groaned when I found out about the Gatsby movie, knowing that I'd have to see it, considering the star.   I guess my only hope was that I might get a little more something out of the story than I had initially.

So, this past weekend, I saw the film. In 3D.  In typical Baz Luhrmann fashion, the images were breathtaking, the colours and spectacle made perfect sense in the framework of the story. (The music was a bit incongruous and out of time, but dealable.)  Everything was that bit over the top that excellently illustrated the excess of the lifestyle being portrayed, and I walked out of the theatre with a much better understanding of the character of Gatsby than I expected.  From the book, I just felt the behaviour was selfish and self-indulgent, but from the movie, I grasped something else, a vulnerability, a need to please that I hadn't noticed before.  All the roles were well-played, and made much more sense for me in the movie than the book, perhaps because I could see the emotions (or lack there-of) where in the book I had to make it up for myself.  With no sense of relation to any of the characters, I found that impossible.

I have started re-reading the novel now, while the film images are still fresh in my mind, because I hope to be able to take something more from it than I did the first time.  But I do need to applaud Baz Luhrmann for the interpretation/adaptation that has created an appreciation of this story in me.  And for casting Leo in it because with another actor, I may not have made the effort of seeing it.  He will likely always be the image of Jay Gatsby that I see.

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