Tuesday Review: The Great Gatsby

What more can be said about Gatsby,
Than he was, at one time, a has-to-be?
When you went to his house,
He was never a louse.
But his past was just a bit shadowy.

–  Marsha Ingrao

A few weeks ago I saw the 2013 Warner Brothers film starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway along with Carey Mulligan as Nick’s beautiful cousin, Daisy and her husband Tom Buchanan, played by Joel Edgerton.  I had read the story years ago, and I wondered how well the film followed the book, since often films might be about seemingly another novel entirely.  In my opinion the director and cast captured the essence of the 1925 novel in a mere 2 hours and 23 minutes.  I saw the actors flesh out every page I read.  My opinion differs from most of the critics, as it seems that most moviegoers’ opinions often do.  I wonder why that is.

“The best attempt yet to capture the essence of the novel.”  Top critic, Richard Roeper, came the closest to representing what I saw in the film.

“Almost 100 percent faithful to the novel in terms of plot, and almost zero percent faithful in terms of theme, character, and impact.” Another top critic, Eric D. Snider, remained critical of the movie, disparaging what I thought accurately represented what I read.  Read his review here.

Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway
Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway

Snider writes, “Nick is a bore. (His own romances have been omitted.)”  I certainly disagree with that.  I thought Nick/Tobey was charming.  In the book Carraway doesn’t dwell on his own romances, only to say that he needed to break up with his girl back home, and that eventually his tennis friend, Jordan, became as obnoxious to him as the rest of the bunch.

The four main characters.

“Daisy is a simpering weakling,” Snider writes patronizingly.  Duh!  That was the whole point of the book!  Even the good people of the Roaring 20s were seen, by Fitzgerald, as being weak, affected by their own hedonistic life-style.  Of course, the reader/moviegoer might have expected more guts out of the beautiful Daisy, and their hearts ached to punch her brutish husband in the chops.  Realistically, her reaction is much more likely. Abused women rarely leave their husbands, even if a nice guy happens along.  Marriage is hard work at best, but living with a brute, is a mixed bag, and abused women are often afraid to leave.  Her reaction and acting portrayed that dilemma perfectly.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby
Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby

“Gatsby is a phony schemer whose phony scheming is so obvious that you wonder how anyone in his social circle ever liked him,” writes the critic.  To Snider I would answer snidely, “Again, duh!”  That was the impression painted of Gatsby in the book.  Carraway wasn’t fooled by Gatsby in the book, and he wasn’t in the movie either.  Nonetheless, Gatsby revealed his likability and appeal when he showed his ignorance to Carraway during this brief interlude, my words in parentheses.

“I am the son of some wealthy people in the middle-west…”  (Gatsby told him.)

“What part of the middle-west?” (queries the midwesterner, Carraway.)

“San Francisco,” (Gatsby replied unsuspectingly.)

I found that line particularly charming, and very funny.  Gatsby was sharp enough to garner all the wealth to impress his one-time sweetheart, but not sharp enough to cover up that he didn’t know where he was from.  Obviously, to me, the book wanted him to appear to be a flagrant schemer to Carraway, if there was nothing else besides this conversation to intimate at his illegitimacy.

The guy you love to hate, Tom Buchanan played by
The guy you love to hate, Tom Buchanan played by Joel Edgerton.

“Tom Buchanan is interesting, but only because he’s such a one-dimensional beast.” MISTER Snider, Tom was intentionally a flat character.  You had to hate him as a reader, and even more as a viewer.  The only way to get characters hated, is to make them bad to the bone.  Using a flat character doesn’t always work to gather hatred and make the good guy look better, but it’s a time-honored technique.  Besides that, Mr. Snider, flat characters are NOT interesting.  They are boring on purpose so that the dynamic characters appear even MORE interesting.  So, sorry, you’re wrong again!

Finally, my last Snider quote, “Gone are the melancholic tragedy and the evocative language that have kept people reading The Great Gatsby for 88 years.”  My question to you, sir, is what language, and where did it go?  It seemed to me as I reread the book that the movie used almost every word of dialogue written in the book.  Any other evocative language was found in the descriptions, and those are never spoken in a movie, but presented.  That is the nature of moving from book to movie screen.

Now I understand why movie critics are seldom in agreement with the general public.  In this case, according to the Rotten Tomato Meter, the critics scored the movie 49% positive, while the average movie-goer gave it a 70%.  Casual viewers rate with their gut reaction to the movie.  I’m not sure what the critics used.  It isn’t always their head!  Sorry for picking on you, Mr. Snider, but yours was the second closest opinion to mine, and I just wanted to better understand your thinking.  So this post ended up being a review of a reviewer.  I’ve never done that before.  Congratulations on being my first reviewed reviewer.  🙂

One educational note, English teachers, The Great Gatsby is a primary source document.  Even though the book is about the Roaring Twenties, depicting and accurately describing the Roaring Twenties using the language of the day that doesn’t make it a primary source document.  However, because The Great Gatsby was written in 1925, it IS the Roaring Twenties.  Students might compare Fitzgerald’s work to other non-fiction documents of the time for language, and events, but it is, as much of a primary source as any non-fiction piece.  Common Core approved by Marsha.  🙂

Author: Marsha

Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, and I'm working on retirement. heheh Read more about me here. http://wp.me/P7tP3I-2

23 thoughts on “Tuesday Review: The Great Gatsby”

  1. Yours is the only review of the movie I’ve seen that’s favorable.
    i’ll stick with the book though.

    The ash pit (landfill) frequently described in the book grew up to be Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, site of the 1939 and 1964 Worlds Fairs. I grew up near that park, so it probably endears the book to me a bit more.

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    1. Hi again Guap,
      That would be cool to know where the places are. I’ve been to NYC one time, for a weekend. We did a lot, but all you can say is I put the white nail tip of my little toe in the water. 🙂

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  2. I’ve never read The Great Gatsby. One of my friends proclaims it to be the best novel ever written. For some reason, I haven’t read very many classics. However, I really enjoyed your review, Marsha, and will definitely be seeing the movie! 🙂

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    1. Hi Maddie,
      I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. I didn’t read the classics in high school for some reason. So a few years ago I started reading through some of them. After I saw the movie, I thought I would reread it. I never do that, but it was enjoyable, and I learned a lot more through the reread. i actually enjoy writing reviews because it does make me slow down and savor my reading. I gobble my food, too. I haven’t written food reviews. Maybe I should! 🙂

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        1. I wish I liked writing them. I might eat less and eat more critically and slowly. Hmmmm Nah! I love shoving food in my mouth. Let’s go to the build your own sundae yoghurt bar! 🙂

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  3. Marsha, you’ve done a masterful job pointing out the flaws in the critic’s review.

    I love the Great Gatsby and have read it more than once. This is the first time I’ve seen a movie adaptation of the book and came away pleased. It wasn’t as good as the book, but I didn’t expect it to be. Gatsby is a classic, and classics don’t come along very often. To expect the movie to be as good as the book is unrealistic. However,the movie did capture a good bit of the enviornment of post-World War I America, at least that of New York and other big, booming cities.

    I think critics write reviews with the idea that they have to be controversial, or that they have to appeal to those above the hoi polloi. You have to be able to see a movie on many different levels, they seem to believe, rather than simply enjoy it for the entertainment that it is.

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  4. I have not read the book – I really don’t read – books. I can’t believe I just said that to an educator.
    I did catch the previews & it looked like it would be a good movie to catch. I think I will wait for it to come out on Netflix though.

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    1. You did say that to an educator, so … be prepared for total acceptance, with a bit of encouragement. It’s never too late to start reading. You read all the time – obviously! 🙂 You blog! I did enjoy both the book and the movie. 🙂

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  5. Enjoyed your post and your comments. Saw the movie with my granddaughter. She went out and bought the book with her own pocket money (she’s fourteen), Although I love and have read the classics, I haven’t gotten round to reading the book yet. Sorry to disagree with you about Daisy. It became obvious to the viewer much earlier than it became obvious to poor Gatsby that she wasn’t going to come with him. If anyone deserved to have their lights punched out it’s dear Daisy.

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    1. I do agree with you on that! I was very sad about it, but not surprised. He was the better man, in my opinion, as he was supposed to be, I think. He was her trophy when her husband was treating her so poorly, maybe. 🙂

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    1. I’m so glad, because it is. I automatically followed you right after I read your comment. I can tell that I need to come visit your blog and get acquainted. 🙂 Marsha 🙂

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