Film of the book: ‘The Great Gatsby’ (2013)

The Great Gatsby is the most famous American classic and is close to many readers’ hearts. A film adaptation of such a popular book is always going to be risky. There have of course been previous adaptations, including a silent film (now lost) released the year after the novel was first published. Apparently the Fitzgeralds hated this adaptation. I like to think they would have enjoyed the newest one.

Directed by Baz Luhrmann, the 2013 film is utterly dazzling, the settings and parties a lot more opulent than I envisaged in the book. The costumes, make-up and set design are gorgeous. I couldn’t help feeling that this visual brilliance dominated the film at the expense of the storytelling. The narrative is from Nick Carraway’s perspective, writing this very book and talking to a therapist about Gatsby while in a sanatorium. I thought this was all right but it tended to break the story up a little. Surprisingly, most of the narration is lifted straight from the novel, with a little extra to fill in some explanations (for example, Daisy Buchanan crying over the beautiful shirts). Many of the scenes are extremely short and this results in a fast-paced, almost giddy feel to the film which reflects the characters’ lifestyles and our perception of 1920s America.

The characterisation is spot-on. Tobey Maguire makes an excellent Nick (and reminded me a little of his Peter Parker act in the Spiderman films), Leonardo DiCaprio the smiling and mysterious Gatsby, Joel Edgerton as the unlikeable jealous Tom Buchanan. I like Carey Mulligan as Daisy, although she’s somehow not as sparky as the book character and will probably divide opinion. The sporty and cynical Jordan Baker, probably my favourite character in the book, is perfectly played by Elizabeth Debicki. However, her role is not as significant as in the book. I would have liked more of her.

I found the hip hop soundtrack quite strange. Mixing the music of our era with the 1920s setting just doesn’t work for me. There should have been more jazz. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is also used, which is contemporary with the times although it was released two years after the year in which the story takes place.

If you never got around to reading the book, then watching this film is a good enough substitute.

Low-resolution film poster sourced from Wikipedia.

11 thoughts on “Film of the book: ‘The Great Gatsby’ (2013)”

  1. We just started this book in my Am Lit class. The kids are always puzzled by this adaption. Esp since they just studied the 20s in their history class.

    1. That’s interesting. I think every film is of its time however 😉
      I haven’t seen any other adaptations to compare with though, nor have I studied the book.

  2. For some reason, I have never been interested in this adaptation, although it sounds visually stunning. However, after reading your thoughts, I might give it a go if it shows up on Netflix.

    1. I was never that interested either, but it was only £1 or something in a charity shop. I’m glad I watched it but I’m unlikely to re-watch. I would recommend it though.

  3. I did enjoy watching this film 🙂 I think because I’d never read The Great Gatsby, although I did try at school, I found this film fun to watch and I’m glad to hear it’s a good substitute for the book. I still haven’t read the book and had no idea a lot of narration in the film is directly from the book! 😮 I’d forgotten that in the film he was narrating while talking to someone, I think the film would have worked fine with just narration over the scenes or dare I say try to release the film without any narration and flesh it out a bit more, or course that could lead to it veering away from the original story too much.

    I’m surprised how many people dislike reading this or are put off this book. I thought I was alone when I tried to read this years ago and just never could get into it. I mean ‘The Great Catsby’ was a good book (lol!) but Gatsby seems to be one of those classics that so many people dislike.

    1. It’s interesting how many people seem to dislike the book and yet it has such a high reputation! Maybe anyone who studied it at school has a better insight. I would recommend the book if you liked the film. Also it’s quite a short book unlike a lot of other classics, so it’s not intimidating 🙂

      1. I’ll definitely try reading it again then 🙂 I’m sure I’ll be able to read it now, but it’s interesting how so many peope really don’t like it, maybe it’s just a writing that doesn’t click with a lot of people. Or sometimes it’s the experience of learning somethign at school that can put people off. I don’t have such fond memories of some of the books we had to study at school, due to the way we studied them! lol

        1. Maybe it’s the writing style, or as you say, bad experiences at school. Looking too closely at a book can ruin it.

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