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The Great Gatsby - a film review

Leonardo DiCaprio as the great Jay Gatsby.

Leonardo DiCaprio as the great Jay Gatsby.

The first edition of Fitzgerald's novel, that only sold 20,000 copies and was received by critics as 'ho-hum.'  In fact, only 5,000 more copies would be sold of the novel by the time of Fitzgerald's death.

The first edition of Fitzgerald's novel, that only sold 20,000 copies and was received by critics as 'ho-hum.' In fact, only 5,000 more copies would be sold of the novel by the time of Fitzgerald's death.

Carey Mulligan who plays the fickle, self-absorbed Daisy in the 2013 film version of the novel.

Carey Mulligan who plays the fickle, self-absorbed Daisy in the 2013 film version of the novel.

The Great Gatsby 2013

If you haven't heard or don't know anything about The Great Gatsby, a novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, then you apparently slept through your high school or college American literature class.

The novel, published in 1925, is about the life and times that Fitzgerald lived and witnessed during the the time period referred to as the Jazz Age, Roaring 20's, The Guilded Age, or The Age of the Lost Generation. It was a time of great wealth and also of great poverty here in the U.S. But, Fitzgerald being wealthy himself at this time (he later died penniless) wrote of the super-wealthy. Those of old, aristocratic money and those termed the nouve riche, or new money.

Yes, there were even class distinctions among the super-rich in the '20's as there probably are today. And, one of the themes running through the novel is the distain and 'looking down the nose at' the new money rich by the old money rich.

The main character, Jay Gatsby, is nouve riche, of the new money, and his love is Daisy Buchanan of the old, aristocratic money. In the end, Daisy chooses to remain with her husband, Tom Buchanan, "the brute" as she calls him and the old, aristocratic money.

Another of the themes running through the novel is that the rich are different than the rest of us. They have their own patterns, their own way of living, and their own way of looking at the world. As Fitzgerald so beautifully portrays in his novel, they represent the decadent American dream, they are self-absorbed, selfish, skittish, fickle and 'smash up others' lives,' without a care or a look back.

I am not going to summarize the story for you as you need to read it and Fitzgerald's words yourself. Only then can you really appreciate the story of Jay Gatsby in its totality.

However, Hollywood has loved this story with its themes and symbolism so apparent in the novel. But, I have yet to see a film adaption of this movie that is able to catch and nail down the subtleties with which Fitzgerald writes his novel.

There have been five films made and adaptations of Fitzgerald's most important work:

  • 1926 was a silent film made of the novel and no longer available for viewing
  • 1949 with Alan Ladd portraying Gatsby
  • 1974 with Robert Redford portraying Gatsby
  • 2000 with Toby Stevens portraying Gatsby in a made for TV movie
  • 2013 with Leonardo DiCaprio portraying Gatsby and showing right now in movie theaters.

Daisy and Jay Gatsby in a quiet, innocent moment in one of the best scenes of the 2013 film.

Daisy and Jay Gatsby in a quiet, innocent moment in one of the best scenes of the 2013 film.

Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby.

Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby 2013

Interview with DiCaprio

Buz Luhrmann's adaption

This most recent film adaption of Fitzgerald's novel was directed by Buz Luhrmann, probably best known for his film, Moulin Rouge.

And, that is the problem here with his Gatsby. His Gatsby is not new or original. In fact, it seems to me to be a watered down version of Moulin Rouge. Where garishness and over-the-top scenes and film set were perfect for Moulin Rouge, it comes off as cartoonish and contrived in his Gatsby film.

This is my biggest criticism of this version of Gatsby. The sets are ridiculous, the party scenes too much and over-the-top and not in keeping with the rich atmosphere of Long Island Sound. He even over exaggerates the "valley of the ashes" set and his New York City sets. It lends a creepy, leery feel to this Gatsby that should not be. This is not how Fitzgerald wrote his novel.

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I also did not care for the music that weaves throughout the movie. It is current hip/hop and pop music, I understand by JayZ. Only once, did I hear a true Gershwin song during one of the party scenes. I guess Luhrmann choose contemporary music to appeal to the younger generations, but I felt the contemporary music was inappropriate. I would have much preferred the music of the times, Gershwin or Cole Porter songs and music.

With my biggest criticisms out of the way, there were some aspects of Luhrmann's film that I liked. First and foremost, I loved, loved, loved Leonardo DiCaprio's performance as Jay Gatsby. He nailed it. I think he even did a better performance of Gatsby than Robert Redford did in the 1974 version and you know what a fan I am of Robert Redford.

DiCaprio certainly had the look of Jay Gatsby and a strength and fortitude I did not see in Redford's performance. DiCaprio played lovesick, innocent woer of Daisy and also tough business man, secretive, and coy.

His love for Daisy came across as pure, simple, true and idealistic. His tough business man came across as realistic, cunning, shrewd, and grasping. These two sides to Gatsby, what makes him so enigmatic in the novel, were perfectly portrayed by DiCaprio.

Daisy is another matter. I thought Carey Mullligan did a rather good portrayal of Daisy, although I much preferred Mia Farrow's Daisy in the 1974 film. Mia Farrow came across as more fragile, something I felt was missing from Carey Mulligan's performance in the 2013 version.

Daisy is a combination of fragility, false strength, and self-absorption as Fitzgerald writes her. Mia Farrow did a better job of capturing the true essence of Daisy.

The scenes between Gatsby and Daisy I felt were well done by DiCaprio and Mulligan. The best scene of the movie, I felt, was the bedroom scene where Gatsby is throwing his hundreds, maybe thousands of shirts, all different colors all over the room. Then, Daisy is luxuriating among the shirts. A delightful, funny, romantic, honest scene. Something Jay Gatsby would do.

Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway did a fantastic job. He also nailed his performance. What I didn't like about this film was the framing of the story Luhrmann chose to do. Fitzgerald has Nick Carraway narrate the story all through the novel. Carraway is not rich and is able to lend his realistic observations and opinons about the super-rich.

Luhrmann had Carraway as an alcoholic (in keeping with Fitzgerald's life) in a sanitarium and as part of his therapy actually authoring and writing the novel, The Great Gatsby. This was contrived, not true to the novel, and I did not like it.

The words from the novel that popped up on the theater screen were a distraction and silly, but put there, I believe, because this movie can also be seen in 3-D. This was another contrived aspect of film. This is not a film that I believe should be done in 3-D although I did not see that version. I choose the traditional movie version to see.

The other characters from the novel, Tom Buchanan, Jordan Baker, Myrtle Wilson and her husband were well done and in keeping with the novel. Although, in the novel, Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker have an affair which was not portrayed in this version of the film.

I believe that affair is important to Nick's understanding and realistic observations of the carelessness, callousness and fickleness of the super-rich.

I will say, that Luhrmann stayed with the symbolism and importance of color within Fitzgerald's novel. The film is bathed in yellows and golds, Daisy and Jordan clothed in whites and beige's along with Gatsby and goes along with Gatsby's pale pink/mauve suit in the climax scene at the Plaza hotel where Daisy must choose between Gatsby and her husband, Tom.

At all times there was a yellow or golden light on Gatsby and even DiCaprio's make-up was a golden glow around the jawline. That was very much in keeping with the novel.

Also, Luhrmann kept with the green light emanating from the dock at the Buchanan mansion and its symbolism of Gatsby's hope of getting Daisy back.

I recommend seeing this version of The Great Gatsby, as I think it is worth seeing DiCaprio's performance, definitely the best part of this film. His emotional range is excellent and he capture's Fitzgerald's character very well.

I prefer movies stay with the novel as close as possible and stay with the characters as written by the author. However, I realize this is Luhrmann's own vision of Fitzgerald's work. I just don't think his own vision works very well.

The Great Gatsby is definitely a novel that should be read before seeing the film version and the novel definitely is better than any of the film adaptions made of it.

Copyright (c) 2013 Suzannah Wolf Walker all rights reserved

One of the over-the-top party scenes from the 2013 film of 'The Great Gatsby.'

One of the over-the-top party scenes from the 2013 film of 'The Great Gatsby.'


Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 16, 2013:

MKlow: WOW! This doesn't happen very often-someone agrees totally with a review. I am glad you read this and you saw it like I did. This movie had its good parts and its weak parts, I guess it was the director's vision. I am more a purist when books are adapted to film-I like to see them stick to the book because some people only see the movie and never read the good and so think that is how the book was written. I'm 'old school' I guess. LOL

Mklow1 on October 16, 2013:

Having recently seen this movie (having young children, pop culture has taken a back seat) I decided to check out your review. I am a very opinionated person, so I typically go into reviews to put my own two cents in, but in this case, you didn't give me the chance. If I had wrote a review of this movie myself, it would have reflected yours word for word. From the incorrectly dated music, to the ash heap, to the missed love affair with Jordan (I also thought this was a very important since it revealed the ineptitude of Nick in the bedroom department, which was very important to who he was as a character). Congratulations, you beat me to the punch! But did you happen to notice how the music changed after Leo and Daisy began their love affair? I would attribute this to the change of tone in the story, so at least they didn't botch that up.

I will also agree with your view of the actors and acting. Toby and Leo were very good choices, but the others seemed more like caricatures than characters.

Again, I must commend you for a very well written and insightful Hub and review. I look forward to reading more.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 01, 2013:

Thank you, Jennifer and I hope you enjoy both! Each is a wonderful story!

Jennifer Madison from Lohmar on September 01, 2013:

Amazing review! can't wait to read the book and watch the movie

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on July 29, 2013:

wabash annie: Thanks so much for your comments - most appreciated. I'm glad you enjoyed reading this and it has inspired you to see the film - you won't be disappointed.

wabash annie from Colorado Front Range on July 29, 2013:

What a great review ... I'm looking forward to watching this version. Thanks much!

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on June 13, 2013:

Writer Fox: I think DiCaprio does a great performance as Gatsby. Some critics have dissed his accent in this movie. But, I loved it and it lended to the extent he would go to win Daisy back. I think you will like his performance. There were other things in the movie I was not fond of, but DiCaprio was not one of them. Thanks so much for reading and I'm glad you enjoyed this. Your visit is much appreciated.

Writer Fox from the wadi near the little river on June 12, 2013:

I haven't seen this yet, but DiCaprio is an exceptional actor. At first I didn't want to think about a remake to the classic version, but now I'm looking forward to seeing it. Appreciated your article very much!

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on May 31, 2013:

I couldn't agree more with being glad to live in the era at hand, which has improved in many ways during my own long lifetime!

Lovely to discuss favorite movies with a fellow-enthusiast! :-)

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on May 31, 2013:

Nellieanna: I forgot about 'Sense and Sensibility' - love that one especially the film with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. So good. And I saw "Becoming Jane." Loved that two and it was interesting to learn about Austen's life. It is sad and ironic that she never married - I remember her character saying in the movie, that because she never married she would always make her novels end happily with a marriage. It always made me feel sad for her because of that. But, I find it amazing too that she carved a life out for herself as a writer especially during those times. I am glad I live in the era I do. lol Thanks so much for your interesting and enlightening comments. I appreciate our discussions.

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on May 30, 2013:

Oops. I meant Hugh Bonneville, not Benneville.

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on May 30, 2013:

Thank you, Suzette. Yes, I must agree that Redford's Gatsby was on the wishy-washy side, though I seem to have accepted him that way. I confess I haven't read the novel recently enough to remember its fine-tuning much. I thought Mia Farrow captured the character of Daisy as she surely was in Ftizgerald's mind. 'Ditsy' describes it well, as would 'spoiled' and 'oblivious'. She didn't seem contriving enough to be effectively self-serving, really. She was simply pampered and unrealistic, except in momentary flashes of feeling with more depth.

Yes, the 1985 BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice" stars Colin Firth as Darcy. The attention to detail and overall essence of the novel is extremely well done throughout it, I think. The DVD includes some quite informative and interesting interviews with the screenwriter, director and actors, and describes the settings and attention to detail in costuming, hairstyles, makeup and period dances, as well. The music director researched them fully and the cast learned them as they were done at the time. Even the soldiers' uniforms were fashioned in Italy authentically on the actual uniforms of the time. The filmt was 10 years in the making and seems to have left no stones unturned to get it 'right'.

The 2000 film of it was fairly true to the story, I suppose; but comparatively, it misses the mark and fails to portray the full essence of it as well as the BBC presentation.

I had to find a clip online to refresh my memory of the 1940 version with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. All I can say is that it seems almost an amateur farce bent on trivializing Jane Austen's story. (I've decided to omit "what I really think of it" of my remaining comments about why I say that. This is no place for a rant! But talk about 'taking off on a tangent'!)

I've all of the Austen novels and films in my collections, though I haven't read all the novels. She wrote only six, I understand. Of the films, I like "Emma" the least. It seems a little flippant, but perhaps it's just the film itself making it so. It's a Hollywood version with a number of Hollywood actors, including Gweneth Paltrow as Emma. "Sense and Sensibility" is excellent, and Emma Thompson's version did it well, I think. I like both "Persuasion" and "Mansfield Park" very much; they're both BBC films. Harold Pinter plays Sir Thomas Bertram in "Mansfield Park", with Frances O'Connor as Fanny, who is disarming. Surprisingly, I realize that Hugh Benneville, who is Lord Grantham on "Downton Abbey' is in it, playing Mr. Rushworth, who marries one of the snobbish Bertram girls. All the cast are well done, I think.

"Northanger Abbey" is a bit gothic for my taste. It's a Masterpiece film.

My grandkids, knowing how much I like Jane Austen, sent me the DVD of the film based on her own story, "Becoming Jane". I found it interesting.

Easy to understand why reviewing the films based n Austen novels seems overwhelming. Even the variety of treatments of them in various films is a bit of a challenge. It's easy to be impressed by some and distressed by others! Their historic significance is almost a living character hovering over them, plus Austen's own forward-looking attitude about and at odds with women's roles at the time is a gigantic factor. She ended up not marrying and actually earning a living as a writer, which was unheard of then. When one realizes that women of any ranking 'class' were allowed to neither inherit nor to work and be paid in any capacity, their plight of having to find husbands is like a cloud over their lives till they do! Then, if they bear daughters themselves, history will repeat itself as they work at marrying off those daughters. That entail system has lasted well into the 20th century, and for all I know, may still prevail in some capacity!

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on May 30, 2013:

Thanks Nellianna. I''m sure Luhrmann made the changes to Gatsby as he saw fit and to be different from the 1974 version. I love Robert Redford so much - in fact I have a hub about him, too. But, his Gatsby was to tentative and sort of wishy-washy and I was disappointed in his performance. DiCaprio's Gatsby is stronger and certain - he has that dream and he's going for it no matter what. I see that as how Fitzgerald wrote him. I loved Mia Farrow as Daisy, because I think Fitzgerald wrote her ditzy and Farrow played her well. I like Carrie Mulligan, but just not as much as Farrow's performance who was so self-absorbed and in her own little world.

Pride and Prejudice - I love that novel also and it is my favorite of Austen's novels. I can't remember, is the 1995 version with Colin Firth as Darcy? If it is, that is my favorite film adaption of the book. I love the old Greer Garson one, but the one with Colin Firth is tops in my book. If that is the one you are referring to then I agree with you. I didn't see the recent one in 2005, so I can't compare. I realize sometimes changes have to be made in film to keep the pace of the film and the audiences interest. And, small changes for those reasons don't bother me. It is when they take off on a tangent or don't include a large bulk of the book or a very important scene or change a character that bothers me. PBS did a series of all of Austen's novels a few years back. I watched all of those and loved them dearly. I had only read P&P , Emma, and Persuasion and I thought those did well and kept with the books. Mansfield Park? and Northanger Abbey? Those two I have not read. (I also forget their names at the moment.) so I couldn't compare them to the book. But, I liked the presentations. This period in English history I love and love reading about it. I also love the Bronte sisters books and I have written hubs on them. Funny, I haven't tackled Jane Austen or her novels yet, here on hub pages. i guess I think too overwhelming. lol Thanks for your visits and I enjoy talking novels and films with you!

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on May 30, 2013:

Thank you, Suzette, for your special recommendation. I can very well see DiCaprio as Gatsby. He'd surely interpret the role differently than Redford, but equally as well and true, I'm sure.

Ah. Yes, I'd also be put off by such a portrayal of Nick, who was a really sympathetic character in the version I saw, played by Sam Waterston. One felt he had a kind of blanket understanding of and love for all the other characters and their peculiarities, without being judgmental. He was quite likable.

I agree about keeping a film true to its novel. Instinctively one notices that it either gives authenticity or else it slightly 'misses the mark' of the original. Film is, though, such a totally different visual and audio media, that it's not possible to be shown exactly as written, where just the words had to capture the moods and settings in the novel, contrasted with nonverbal imagery necessary in order to convey those on film; but there's no excuse for changing the characters, who can be shown as written, and should be.

A good example might be the 1995 BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice", compared to the good, but not as authentic film done in 2005. When I told a British online friend how much I liked the film, he insisted I must see the 1995 version and even sent me a DVD he made for me of it! I could so easily see the distinctions, though I'd enjoyed the other one. So many intricate details about the period in which it's set were better presented and emphasized. Subtleties about the characters were not neglected. It made me get out my copy of the novel and track the events and dialog, in fact. I still watch it (the 1995 version, not the other one I still have!) again and again, and take note of more of the details.

Of course, it starts off with the two men galloping across the field on horseback, unlike the novel. The director, Ang Lee, explained it as a way to present the ever-present masculine element in the story a bit more emphatically than Austen ever did in her writing. She shied away from attempting to 'interpret' male-to-male dialog, for one thing, having never been present without introducing her own gender into the scene. If she'd visualized the two men riding and talking together, she would have felt too limited to describe it accurately Perhaps she'd have appreciated the director's spotlight on those instances when the men had to have been together if the story were 'real', when no womenfolk were present.

Anyway - thank you again for your excellent review of Gatsby!

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on May 29, 2013:

Nellieanna: I think you would like the new Gatsby film. I really like DiCaprio as Gatsby. I just didn't like how the director presented his vision of the novel. I'm too much of a traditionalist when it comes to adapting novels to film. I believe in keeping to the novel not the director giving his own vision. I did not like that Nick Carraway was portrayed as an alcoholic and in a sanitarium. That is just fiction on the part of the film director. Anyway, thank you for your comments and I'm glad you enjoyed my review of the film.

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on May 28, 2013:

Oh, your review captures the essence of this Fitzgerald story, Suzette! I'm eager to see this film remake of the story, which just keeps coming back in remake after remake, it seems!

I'm still quite a fan of the 1974 movie rendition produced by David Merrick, screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola, and with Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Bruce Derm, Sam Wterston, Karen Black and a host of other stellar actors in the cast. It's such a tragic story, though settings are lush and lovely. It's an era that holds special fascination, as well.

I can truly see DiCaprio as Gatsby, though I don't know Carey Mulligan's film work. The pictures of her as Daisy look less scatterbrained than Mia Farrow played her. You've noted that Mia better captured Fitzgerald's conception of her. Inevitably, I suppose, the earlier cast lingers with me as 'who' these people 'are'.

Guess I will just have to see the new film! It's always good that classic stories hold the attention of today's audiences. Thank you for including the preview videos, and especially for your in-depth review of details and points, many of which I was not much aware before. I'm sure I read the book in school but my junior and senior high school were back in the 'dark ages' of the 1940s! I'm pleased to hear that my positive expectations for DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby are unlikely to be dashed, upon seeing the 2013 version when I do.

Often, efforts to improve upon the story in subsequent remakes can be disappointing, as they sometime seem to substitute amazing technology and glitz for authors' crystalline excellence and artistic substance. Like you, I prefer that the film take its lead from the actual novel. Older versions perhaps tended more to do so, I think.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on May 19, 2013:

Elias; So glad you read this and enjoyed the review. I loved Luhrmann's 'Moulin Rouge' but I'm just not excited about his Gatsby. DiCaprio's performance is worth seeing the movie, I think. Thanks for reading an for your interesting comments.

Elias Zanetti from Athens, Greece on May 18, 2013:

I was curious about Buz Luhrmann directing this one. Never been a huge fan of his work. I think your review confirms my 'suspicions' :) Let's hope DiCaprio saves the day.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on May 18, 2013:

Thank you Eddy and thanks for reading this and for your comments!

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on May 18, 2013:

tebo: Thank you so much for reading this and I'm glad you enjoyed it. Yes, Gatsby is big news here in the U.S. Do see the movie as DiCaprio's Gatsby is well done. Movies usually are a bit different than the books, but this adaption really bothered me. I didn't like what Luhrmann did with the Nick Carraway character. I guess I'm a traditionalist when it comes to adapting books to movies. Thanks for your input - most appreciated.

Eiddwen from Wales on May 18, 2013:

A wonderful review Suzette and thank you for sharing.


tebo from New Zealand on May 17, 2013:

This is a great review of The Great Gatsby. I saw the Robert Redford version many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed if my memory serves me correctly. I didn't realize there was a new version out and from your review I would like to see it. I have not read the book but obviously from your review it must give a more in depth insight to the times portrayed in the movie renditions. Voted up, and awesome.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on May 17, 2013:

tobusiness: Thank you so much for your kind comments! I liked the movie, although I wasn't crazy about Luhrmann's vision of it. DiCaprio's performance of Gatsby is worth seeing the movie though. Thanks so much for stopping by and thanks for the share - most appreciated.

Jo Alexis-Hagues from Lincolnshire, U.K on May 17, 2013:

Suzette, what a brilliantly written review!....I read the book a long time ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, looking forward to seeing this film. Well done, up and sharing.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on May 17, 2013:

Mhatter: Thanks for your visit and your comments. Yes, in this particular novel, it is better to have read the book before seeing any of the versions of the movie. I will say again, DiCaprio's Gatsby is really good.

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on May 17, 2013:

Thank you for this great review. I've heard reading the book, like you said, adds to the movie.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on May 16, 2013:

Hi Faith: I am such a traditionalist when it comes to making a movie of the book. I don't like when the director changes the story from the book and that's what happened in this case. It is still good to see because DiCaprio's performance is so good. Thanks so much for reading this and for the votes.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on May 16, 2013:

billybuc: I, too, saw the previews about ten times also - Lol! I definitely recommend seeing it. I really liked DiCaprio's performance, but there were just some things the Luhrmann did that I wasn't crazy with. It ruined the story more for me than enhanced it. Thanks for your visit and your comments. Most appreciated.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on May 16, 2013:

Really great and thorough review here, suzzette. I am in agreement, that movies should stay with the novel as close as possible. I really hate it when they do not. Reading the book is always the best anyway no doubt!

Voted up +++ and sharing

Blessings, Faith Reaper

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 16, 2013:

I've seen the previews about ten times now while at the theater, but I haven't seen the movie yet. Thanks for the review. I'm sure we'll go see it eventually. :)

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