Baz Luhrmann's re-telling of F.Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel The Great Gatsby opens in theaters this weekend, and this librarian is especially interested. Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet) is a quirky and dazzling filmmaker, but even his admirable work with big-name actors and iconic stories over the past couple decades doesn't qualify him unequivocably for this one. I mean, come on. It's the Great American Novel. The film promises to be a visual feast - much like the Jazz Age it portrays - but will it successfully capture Fitzgerald's subtle, Midwestern commentary on material culture and the American Dream among the East Coast's elite?
For those of you who haven't read it in a few years (or weren't paying attention in English class), allow me to refresh your memory. A summary from our handy-dandy Literature Resource Center (or find R 809 CON on shelves) reminds us that the story of self-made man Jay Gatsby is told to us by fellow Midwestern transplant Nick Carraway in regretful retrospect. Once a neighbor of Gatsby's on Long Island, Carraway recalls the summer he unwittingly brought his wealthy cousin, Daisy, back together with her former lover Gatsby. At a series of lavish (and seemingly purposeless) parties, Carraway, Gatsby, Daisy, Daisy's husband Tom Buchanan, and Tom's mistress Myrtle parade around New York primping and pouting about personal histories and romantic liaisons - to disastrous results. Somebody behind the wheel of a reckless yellow car makes somebody else angry enough to find his gun. As the American Dream seemingly goes up in smoke, Carraway bemoans what he judges to be the crass materialism of the East Coast and the trappings of social mobility.
The movie poster promises to make mention of the ominous billboard featuring the blank-eyed stare of Dr. Eckleburg, but I'm curious to find out what else in-your-face Luhrmann does to promote subtle, succinct Fitzgerald's greater messages. One early review concludes that he misses the point for all the fanfare. Luhrmann's style is alluring; you are guaranteed 2 hours of sumptuous costumes, glittering sets, and even a contemporary soundtrack (Beyonce and Florence and the Machine among them), but exactly how will that realize Fitzgerald's cloudy cautionary tale?
As always, friends, it's up to you. Before you see the movie, come to the Library and review the book, or even the 1974 movie version. See the film version of a literary classic with an educated eye, and, like me, hope to banish all skepticism.