Although the book was not recognized as such until after the author’s death in 1940, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is an American classic. Fitzgerald understood his writing time better than many of his contemporaries. The fleeting romance, the excesses of the 1920s and the despair that lay beneath.
Fitzgerald’s Gatsby was a man unfit for the changing times in which he lived. He was self-made at a time when people valued more about the hereditary wealth of their generation. Jay Gatsby is a man seduced by the exclusive affluent society in the shadow of New York City on Long Island’s gold coast. Believing that he could freely join their ranks and earn the love of Daisy Buchanan turns out to be his downfall.
The book stands firmly in the canon of great American novels. It is a core part of high school English courses in the United States. Film adaptations have attempted to capture the essence of the imaginative and beautiful novel – but few have really succeeded. Here are some that made the brand.
Baz Lurhmann’s The Great Gatsby (2013)
Baz Lurhmann’s 2013 version of The Great Gatsby is an adjustment where the volume is set to eleven. More Moulin Rouge than the rigid and reserved adjustments that masterpieces usually receive. Bright colors, kaleidoscopic CGI cityscapes and a bizarre soundtrack clearly confirm Lurhmann’s Gatsby as the campy spectacle some fans would most like to forget.
The 2013 film has a star-studded cast. Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway. Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke round out a powerful supporting cast. The star of the movie, however, is the lavish and over-the-top costumes, settings and images.
This Great Gatsby film takes some wild liberties with the source material. Luhrmann changes key scenes to fit more into its music video-like structure and shreds plot points to fit the film’s strange framing device. Luhrmann chooses to focus on Gatsby’s dazzling parties and lavish lifestyle. Maybe this movie isn’t for every fan of the original, but it’s an interesting artifact in its own right.
Jack Clayton’s The Great Gatsby (1974)
If you’re looking for a simpler adaptation of the classic novel, look no further than the 1974 version of Jack Clayton. Sam Waterson, who you may remember as Jack McCoy Law & Authority, our narrator is Nick Carraway, and 1970s heartthrob Robert Redford is our Gatsby. Bruce Dern is a real star and adds a lot of depth to Tom Buchanan’s character.
This version of Gatsby is more grounded in reality. The film has a softly lit, dreamy quality that serves to obscure the gritty reality contained within. In a showdown late in the film between Gatsby and Tom, each character is beautifully dressed up in tailored suits while their faces are glistening with sweat. Their carefully crafted worlds begin to fall apart as their romantic rivalry reaches a boiling point.
This is a much more literal adaptation of The Great Gatsby. The topic is presented very clearly and in an almost clinical manner. The film’s rich photography presents America’s wealth as beautiful, austere white marble mansions and endless expanses of green lawns. The strength of this movie is these incredible locations and some fantastic performances.
From this well-known Great Gatsby movies, which one is your favorite? Do you prefer Baz Luhrmann’s star-studded, over-the-top approach that uses spectacle to explore the themes of the outrageous roaring twenties? On the other hand, do you like the more subtle 70s version that adds some depth and character to the source material? Let us know in the comments below!
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