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.