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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.