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Why Baz Luhrmann’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ split audiences: Age & Love for the Novel

You can totally call me out as wrong on this, but I think I know why Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby split audiences pretty much exactly down the middle! Half of movie-goers loved it while the other half decided it was an over-produced, rap-music-ruined mess. I was on the “loved it” side of the spectrum, and the reason for that is: Age, and love for the novel.

I believe that to truly love The Great Gatsby film, you have to at least appreciate the novel. You can’t dismiss the story due to the characters that are not necessarily…likeable. In fact, most of the characters in this story are not very good people at all. Enjoying this film requires you to at least appreciate what Fitzgerald created, in my opinion. The other reviewer of Gatsby right here at Page to Premiere was our very own Amy Taylor, and she gave the movie a 2/5. However, she didn’t enjoy the novel in high school, and didn’t understand the novel’s position as the “Great American Novel.” Obviously, not enjoying the story when you read it as a book will have some correlation to not liking the film. I personally loved the movie, but I also loved the novel! I just really appreciated how each character was not actually a good person through and through, maybe you don’t even like them at all, but there are pieces of each character that mirror your own personality. No person in the world is entirely good, or entirely bad. We all can skew, and make any piece of evil seem okay in our heads, due to the circumstances, right? Also, the characters of the story all fit together in such a genius way, that the story ends and readers like myself just stop and think…how did he do that? How did he create such a perfect little plot that sends your mind in a million directions? However, that’s just my opinion. Some people can’t get behind a story where the characters are so frustratingly…not good people! It can be hard to do. Sometimes beautiful prose and a complex, genius plot is not enough to get past ugly characters.

Then, there are the people who do love the novel, but didn’t enjoy the film. One such person is John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars. The second category I think people fall into for the love and hate of Baz’s Gatsby is….age! 35-and-under crowd gave the movie a B+ and those below the age of 18 liked it even more, giving it a shining A- review. I think that this movie was made for young people, and was supposed to appeal to folks that are living and growing up in the current time period. After all, when Fitzgerald wrote the story, he was young! It was the 1920’s! The Great Gatsby novel was not a “period piece.” He wrote this as a commentary about himself those he spent time with, in the period he was living in. This is what Baz was trying to get across. He was trying to create an adaptation of the film that really drew in the young crowd, made them immersed, and really feel like they were at Gatsby’s parties, and truly feel how over the top and beyond-ridiculous they were. If you played a ton of jazz music, would a 17, 18, or 20 year old (like me) really feel like they could be there? No! Kids these days, and celebrities that are rolling in the dough like Gatbsy or the Buchanans, would not play jazz music at a raging party that everyone who was anybody was coming to. Yes, you could bring across a “party of the 1920’s that was very intense” using jazz music…but is that what Baz Luhrmann was trying to do here? No, he was trying to root the story in now. People who are over the age of 25 may just not understand modern music, and really like it, or appreciate it in this context. I don’t blame you if you’re in this category! I mean who knows, I’m only 20, maybe when I’m 40 the kids in those days will be playing music that I just won’t understand, and can’t get behind. Maybe when they make a modern adaptation of Gatsby when I’m 60 years old I just won’t like it for that reason. Who knows? I just feel like the modern style of this film was made for young people. As Fitzgerald said, “We were the most powerful nation. Who could tell us any longer what was fashionable and what was fun?” What is “fashionable and fun” has changed. It was a movie and a novel about being young, being free, was supposed to capture exactly how people felt when living in the 1920’s. If you create a “period” piece, modern audiences will not feel that fury and restlessness, like Baz Luhmrmann wants to capture.

Which side were you on? Did you enjoy the movie? Also, do you agree with this? If you did, did you not like it because of your age, or because you didn’t like the novel, or both? If you disagree, why do you think there was such a huge split? Sound off in the comments!

Artwork by Adria Mercuri.

Kimmy is a 22 year old nerdfighter and artist who is the founder and editor-in-chief of Page to Premiere. When she's not writing about books and movies here or on her Hunger Games site called Mockingjay.net, she loves creating original content at her magazine and production company JØLVIE, manically Tumblr-ing, eating sushi, drinking Thai iced tea, and being lazy with her cat Rue! She hopes to be a published author one day. You can follow her on Twitter at @kimmymary.

  • http://www.facebook.com/farida.mestek Farida Mestek

    I loved the movie. I went to watch it with my family and our ages ranged from 12 to 50. We all loved it. My twelve-year old cousin adored the soundtrack and, I believe, that’s why she loved the movie so much – speaking of modernizing the music to nowadays audience. I started reading the book that same day (I never finished it at the university) and though I haven’t gotten far, so far the movie and the book are very similar as far as the story and the spirit of the story go. I think the director and the actors did an excellent job. Maybe people just don’t like to be shown what they really are? I think that that’s part of the problem too, which means that they’re disgusted with themselves and their culture.

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  • Kelly Sandidge

    I really love the book but from the sound of this I’m not going to like the movie :-/

  • Kimberly Carrick

    I did not like the book when I had to read in in HS and the only part I really remembered was that Daisy ran over her husbands mistress (Myrtle) in Gatsby’s yellow car. However, the trailer is one of the best movie trailers I’ve ever seen and I was stoked to see it. My bf and I definitely enjoyed the film! The way it was shot was super cool and the music was awesome! The only thing that was annoying was Gatsby saying “old sport” every time he opened his mouth. It was a great film and I can see myself buying it on DVD when it comes out.

  • Aditi J

    I did not like the film,but the few parts I did enjoy were the soundtrack-for the reasons you mentioned but I found the special effects distracting and unnecessary,the acting wooden and insubstantial and the beautiful prose of Fitzgerald lost in a superfluous plot device of Nick seeing a psychiatrist and writing his own story about Gatsby. However I know many teens of my own age have loved the film,and if it encourages more people to read the novel thats hardly a bad thing! Overall,it wasn’t my cup of tea but I can see where others may appreciate it.

  • Aditi J

    I personally found the film focused too much on style over substance…but the soundtrack was amazing

  • Cathy

    i completely agree with everything you just said. I loved this movie, some people just don’t understand how great it really is.