Is Gatsby Really That Great?

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This  week saw the release of the latest film adaptation of The Great Gatsby,  a serious contender for the Great American Novel. Written in the roaring  twenties, the book reflects F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author’s perception  of a superficial, excessive society, through characters with no real  concern for anyone else other than their social class or how big a party  they can host. As the story unfolds, their shallowness becomes more  and more apparent to the narrator, Nick Carraway, whose condemnation  of them mirrors Fitzgerald’s feelings which lead to him writing the  novel in the first place.

But there is more to  The Great Gatsby than a host of adulterous newly rich out for a good  time. The eponymous character idealises over recovering his true love,  and the novel shows his attempts to regain a part of his past, despite  protests from Nick that this is impossible. Fitzgerald also enlightens  readers of the nature of the twenties by placing a timeless, relatable  storyline in a now historical context, for example demonstrating the  bootlegging and organised crime culture which is revealed to be the  source of Gatsby’s fortune. It is perhaps this window into the nature  of the jazz age which still makes The Great Gatsby a popular novel on  A Level curriculums.

It is no surprise then  that the fifth film adaptation of The Great Gatsby has just been released,  directed by Baz Luhrmann. In my opinion, Luhrmann was the perfect choice  – his “in your face” cinematography emphasises the garish decadence  present in Fitzgerald’s novel, and makes all symbolic meanings obvious  to an everyday moviegoer who is used to anything but subtlety in 21st century mainstream cinema.

Leonardo DiCaprio is  an excellent Gatsby, bringing just the right amount of charm to the  role whilst showing his insecurities of being a fraudulent criminal  unworthy of the status he has created for himself. The part of Nick  Carraway also seems suited to Tobey Maguire, allowing him to take one  step further away from being typecast as a role which no longer belongs  to him. I would have slightly changed the dialogue given to these actors  however. Lines such as “is this absolutely where you live my dearest  one?” seem too archaic when put next to music from Jay-Z and Kanye  West, and the constant repetition of “old sport”, whilst serving  a purpose, does become annoying in a 2013 adaptation.

Although I know there  will be comments from people who have not read the book about how there  aren’t many (or any) likeable characters, hopefully most people will  understand that this is the point of The Great Gatsby – to highlight  the soullessness of the opulent middle classes in 1920s America that  we hope is a thing of the past. It really is a shame to think that F.  Scott Fitzgerald died believing the novel to be a failure, considering  the literary status it has acquired since and the many adaptations it  has undergone, including a 3D film for a whole new 21st century  audience.

Simon James

Any excuse to write about Oasis really.

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