The Great Gatsby: A New Version

UPDATE: To read my review of The Great Gatsby (2013), CLICK HERE.


Well… not yet.  But seldom has a movie generated so much buzz even before it is made. The debates take on several fronts.

First off, there’s this argument of whether we need another Gatsby adaptation. There have been three full feature film versions of the classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, as early as 1926, then in 1949. The most familiar for us modern day viewers is the 1974, Francis Ford Coppola screenplay, Robert Redford and Mia Farrow version. So more than thirty years now.  It would be interesting to see what a 21st century interpretation is like.

Then there’s the cast.  It’s been reported that Leonardo DiCaprio is the new Jay Gatsby, Tobey Maguire the narrator Nick Carraway, and stirring the frenzy, director Baz Luhrmann’s announcement of Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan.

I’m totally delighted with the cast selection.  While he may not be very convincing as an aging Howard Hughes (The Aviator, 2004), DiCaprio could make a very natural Jay Gatsby. Tobey Maguire’s quiet, observant demeanor, like his role in Cider House Rules (1999), would be a suitable Nick Carraway, although he might not have the poise as Sam Waterston back in 1974.

I’m all for Carey Mulligan, but still I feel she would have to fight against type to play Daisy Buchanan. Far from the innocent school girl in An Education, or the caring and sensitive Kathy in Never Let Me Go, it could be a challenge to portray a frivolous and capricious Daisy.  But if she could beat out names such as Natalie Portman, Abbie Cornish, Michelle Williams, Blake Lively, Scarlett Johansson, Amanda Seyfried, Rebecca Hall and Kiera Knightly in her audition to get the part, I trust she has what it takes to deliver. I’m excited to see her given a chance to extend further her acting talents.

That leaves us with the debate of whether the new interpreter could do Fitzgerald’s novel justice.  Director Baz Luhrmann’s previous works seem to embody a Gatsby house party: Moulin Rouge (2001), Strictly Ballroom (1992), Australia (2008), and his very postmodern take of Romeo + Juliet (1996), which, I admit, is one of the few movies that I had to quit watching after the first 15 minutes.

The online arguments against Luhrmann’s directing surround his over-the-top and superficial renditions of his previous movies.  His ability to translate the layered and nuanced descriptions of this literary classic into film is challenged outright.

That leads us to a more fundamental issue.  In my review of the film The Hedgehog (2009), one reader has left this thought-provoking question in the comment:

Is it possible that, no matter how well or poorly the job is done, there are some books that simply don’t make the transition from print to film with their essence intact?

As the postmodernists would have it, books and films are two different textual entities.  Fidelity is no longer something to strive for, but the appreciation of intertexuality.  Both ought to be taken in its own right, can’t be literally tranlated, can’t be compared.  And if Barthes has the final say, you just have to take it as is with whatever Luhrmann brings us since that’s his interpretation.  The author is dead… here literally and metaphorically.


No matter what, I won’t judge before it’s even being made. Nonetheless, I do have a few words to appeal to Mr. Luhrmann:

Please don’t waste a talented cast, and a brilliant literary work. Offer us quality and depth of interpretations and not just the frothy splendour of the Jazz Age.  Consider lines like these and create the complexity and ambivalence in your characters:

I wanted to get out and walk eastward toward the park through the soft twilight, but each time I tried to go I became entangled in some wild, strident argument which pulled me back, as if with ropes, into my chair.  Yet high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering.  I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.

While there’s no doubt you are capable of capturing the “gleaming, dazzling parties,” reveal also the undercurrents of anxiety, sadness, and ennui.  And in the midst of the seeming conviviality, give us the nuanced actions of inner quest, the search for real relationship in a mansion of party crashers, and the lingering hope of love:

A wafer of a moon was shining over Gatsby’s house, making the night fine as before, and surviving the laughter and the sound of his still glowing garden.  A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host, who stood on the porch, his hand up in a formal gesture of farewell.

And above all, do justice to Jay Gatsby, honor his deep devotion for his love and not mock his attempt.  For behind the façade of materials and wealth, he is the one with the heart.  Show us how “the vague contour of Jay Gatsby had filled out to the substantiality of a man.”

Remember, it is the heart that gratifies your viewers, not the glitz and glamour.

And please, not a musical.


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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

11 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby: A New Version”

  1. Has anybody seen Gatz? Any clue about how to score a ticket?


    You mean the acclaimed, 6.5 hr. theatre production where every word from the book is read out … my closest experience of it was reading the NYT review.



  2. Hmmm…I have a hard time with Leonardo playing anyone. Shouldn’t he still be in his playpen? 🙂 Anyway, it’ll be hard for me to imagine other actors than Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in these roles; they were so very good. It’s actually a film that I thought better than the novel, and that hardly ever happens.


    Leo didn’t do too badly in a previous similar role… from a dirt poor lower decker rising to mingle with the upper echelon donning bow tie and tux to get the object of his affection… from Jack to Jay, just a little steeper climb 😉



  3. I have had a hard time with DiCaprio too, but I must say he was convincing in Revolutionary Road, though I did not like the movie at all (well done, it was just not my cup of tea).

    The passages you’ve quoted here are so delicious.

    I think you should send your pleas to Luhrmann directly! They’re brilliant.


    You know, when I was writing this post, I had this title in mind: ‘An Open Letter to Baz Luhrmann.’ But later decided I should tone it down, less sensational… or else I’d be following his style 😉 Hope he would stumble upon this as the bits and bytes fly off in cyberspace.



  4. Oh my, oh dear. Throw me in my grave and pile dirt on me right now – I might as well be dead. I haven’t heard of a single one of the women mentioned as a possible Daisy. Well, Kiera Knightly. I might have heard of her.

    This really is becoming a puzzlement. I’ve gone to see Julie and Julia and Up in the Air because of your reviews, and I enjoyed them both. Yet, after all this time, and despite all of my best intentions, I’m not turning into a film viewer.

    Now, I don’t think this is a moral failing or anything, but it makes me curious. Could it be there’s a corollary question to the one asked above about some books simply not being suitable for transformation into film?

    Is it possible there are “book people” and “film people”, just as there are “fiction people” and “non-fiction people”? And if so, is there something inherent in the film medium which makes it more attractive to some people than others?

    As a side note, I read a blog entry this morning written by a woman who just brought home some sort of gigantic, 3-D, wall-mounted television. She was ecstatic, and gave a blow-by-blow account of its purchase, installation and performance. Meanwhile, my 27′ color with cable is out the door – and since dumping it, I haven’t missed it at all. (OK – I do watch NCIS down at Mom’s now and then. Well, every week. But still…)

    I don’t mean to run on, but I just thought of this, too – I don’t care a thing about taking photographs. When I do, I generally have a purpose in mind, like using them for blog illustrations. But just to go out and photograph for the joy of capturing the image and learning the craft? I talk about it a bit, but I don’t do it.

    Not a film watcher, no tv, doesn’t care to engage in serious photography. I think we have a pattern here – I wonder what it means!


    1. Linda,

      First off, it’s inconsequential that you don’t know any of these actors. It’s they who should worry about not being heard of.

      As to your speculation, I agree that there are ‘book people’ and ‘film people’, and, as another commenter has said, there are also ‘book AND film people’. Ripple Effects was first started as my attempt to combine these two passions of mine, for they are closely related. Many movies are based on books… including the ones you’ve watched, Julie and Julia and Up In The Air.

      So, I’d say, follow your heart. If reading is your passion, go for it. And if visuals speak to you more, go watch a movie. But, I’m sure you’ll find there are visual elements in literature, as well as literary elements in films. And as I say in my “About” page, I’m always holding on to a fusion of eclectic interests and passions.

      I’ve heard someone say this to me: “I don’t go to the movies, but I love reading movie reviews.” I must thank those who go to see a movie because of my reviews, especially if they are a ‘book only’ person. That’s compliment indeed. 😉


  5. Oh no, I think there are people – like Arti and me – who are Book AND Film people. I trained as a librarian and adore books (hence my litblog that does the occasional review) but I spent most of my career working in a film (and sound) archives. The co-founder of my face-to-face bookgroup which has been going for 22 years now, is a librarian and I met her at my workplace. Keen reader, keen filmgoer. I think it’s just horses for courses.

    Love your post Arti. I think there is always opportunity for another version. I think the point of film adaptations is to interpret a book for a new time. I agree a little more with the postmodernists than I think you do, but as is my wont I’m a fence walker, a middle-of-the-roader. I think it is good to keep the essence of the the book BUT as my Jane Austen group discovered recently how do we define the essence. It came about when we were talking about who were her heirs. We all came up with different things depending on what aspect of Austen we were looking at – her romance/period, her feminism, her style. I think by essence you are probably referring to its essential meaning (dare I say “soul”) but we can all see that differently too can’t we. And this makes viewing an adaptation fun …

    And, I’m with you. I think Leonardo and Tobey are interesting possibilities – both seem to be serious young actors who have tried their hands at a variety of roles.

    And that’s about long enough for now I reckon!


    1. whispering gums,

      You’ve brought out a very interesting point. What is the essence of a piece of literary work is perceived differently by its readers. And, even if we actually know what the intention of the author (say, if he/she had explicitly expressed), it still doesn’t mean that readers would have to take it as is. Just like looking at a piece of art, different viewers can have different personal reaction to it. I too try to seek a middle ground. I’ve written a post on this issue, which you might be interested in reading. Here’s the link to my post: “A Thousand Responses”

      Back to this new Gatsby adaptation, while Luhrmann has all the artistic freedom in crafting his own ‘postmodern interpretation’, with all the talented resources he has, my ‘conventional hope’ is that he can be respectful and sensitive to the literary work and not turn it into a farce.

      Sounds like you have a vibrant JA group. I’d love to be there and listen to all your exchanges! Our JA interest is also a kind of eclectic passion in this contemporary culture of ours, isn’t it? Or, should I say, Jane had a progressive mind for her time.

      As for films, with the Award Season arriving soon, there is one which I’m really looking forward to watching. That’s The King’s Speech with Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, screening in my city later in December. Have you seen it yet?



      1. Thanks Arti — and I’ll read that post soon. Yes I’m keen to see The King’s Speech too. I saw it listed in the cinema schedule the other day as coming in the next couple of months so will be aiming to get to it. I mean, who could resist Firth and Rush!

        I agree totally re author’s intention. It’s interesting to know it – if we can – but it’s not the main point. After all just because it was their intention doesn’t mean they achieved it, does it?

        My JA group is a great group …


  6. I was very interested to read your write-up — I’m curious to see how the movie turns out!


    I look forward to seeing it too. May have to wait for another year. Thanks for stopping by.



  7. What a cast! There is great potential there. Perhaps they have a chance to change my mind about the book 😉


    Ha, I’m just the opposite. I think the book is excellent… the thing that needs to be changed is the movie adaptations. So, I just hope Luhrmann would heed my appeals. 😉



  8. Gatsby is one of my all time favorite books -it’s classic American literature, I think. And yes, I think I can see DiCaprio as Gatsby. He’s matured quite nicely in the last couple of roles -Revolutionary Road & Shutter Island.

    I was a teenager when the Redford/Farrow movie came out. I saw it three times, and made my boyfriend (now my husband!) buy a white suit and pale apricot shirt so he’d look like Gatsby. As a matter of fact, he wore the suit for our wedding, and it’s still hanging in our basement closet. I can’t bear to part with it!

    So I will definitely be watching out for this new movie!


    Wow that’s wonderful! Maybe for Valentine’s Day you could have him wear a pink suit 😉 That’s what Gatsby wears when he goes to NY with Daisy and all the rest. Anyway, yes, I’m glad to see another adaptation. It can only raise awareness for the book, which is good. But let’s just hope it’s not negative publicity, ie, hope Luhrmann would do a decent job and do the classic justice. Thanks for stopping by.



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