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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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. 🙂