It is not enough to go to the movie theater, buy some popcorn, sit down and watch The Great Gatsby. To really appreciate the movie we need not only to have read the book, but also to understand its symbols and the director’s style.
The Great Gatsby premiered last Thursday night filling the Century movie theatre in Evanston with Northwestern students. It was a highly anticipated movie and many chose to not go to sleep until three in the morning because of it despite having class the next day.
It wasn’t a movie that was universally loved though. In fact Baz Luhrmann, the director, was extremely criticized because of the style that he used for the movie. The modern music, the jump cuts and the visual effects were some of the things that were not well-received.
What viewers do not understand is that Luhrmann’s movie is not a representation of the book, it is an interpretation. The director is not one to follow the rules of the book, as we saw in his adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. He is one to charge his movies with symbolism though, and Gatsby was no different.
According Medill senior Amber Gibson, Luhrmann's "stylized interpretation was really well done."
Even the music from artists like Florence + the Machine, Lana Del Rey and Jay-Z has a meaning in this new interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's book.
The Great Gatsby is, in a nutshell, a book about excess. Excess of alcohol, excess of parties, excess of love and even an excess of hope. By including modern music, Luhrmann was most likely trying to draw our generation into the excess of the movie without letting us alienate ourselves from a story that happens in the 20’s.
The use of letters to depict quotes from the book on the screen and the bright-colored clothing and cars are other tools that want to create a connection between our concept of excess and the context of the movie.
Luhrmann does not only create symbols, he also perfectly portrays the symbolism from the original book. This is why it is important to be a devoted reader of the work and to know its meaning.
The allusion to colors in explaining a character’s personality, for example, is clear at the moment when the audience meets Daisy. The director wraps her in white curtains and a beautiful white dress. Even Carey Mulligan, the actress portraying Daisy, has a white-ish hue in her skin. These details are meant to ironically make the character seem pure and innocent.
Luhrmann flawlessly uses the weather as an important element as well. He makes a point of showing the rain when Gatsby is about to see Daisy for the first time after five years and stopping it when both of them have reconnected. The heat is also depicted as an essential factor when Tom confronts her wife and her lover.
The weather, according to an analysis of the book, represents the internal sentiment of the characters. It stops raining when Gatsby and Daisy reconnect because it is the spring of their relationship, a new beginning. It is one of the hottest days when Tom confirms his wife’s affair because of the anger that is swelling up inside him.
“Overall, the movie reminded me of Marie Antoinette," Gibson said.
Luhrmann is great at taking you inside the reader’s imagination. Those jump cuts that many people hated? They remind us of the thoughts of a reader jumping from one moment to another as Fitzgerald describes them in his writing.
Even faithful readers, however, might not have understood the scenes depicting Nick at a mental institute. This is why knowing the director’s style is important.
As some readers may know, Fitzgerald wrote several versions of The Great Gatsby. It is possible that in some of the other editions the author sends the book’s narrator to a mental institution. Luhrmann, as the thorough director that he is, analyzed all versions and then decided what details of each he would use in the movie.
It is true that this is a lot of information to hold inside one’s head before watching The Great Gatsby. If you are one of the many lovers of the book and the movie is not what you expected, however, these details might help you remain loyal to the work.