The Flap about The Great Gatsby


The trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby came out this week and has already generated plenty of internet buzz, even though the 3D film won’t hit theaters until Christmastime. Jay Gatsby will be portrayed by Leonard di Caprio, perhaps the only actor that might be able to unseat Robert Redford’s position in our collective consciousness as the enigmatic Gatsby, from the 1974 film. Purists have already thrown up all manner of protest that Luhrmann’s trailer is not loyal to the novel, that the music is too hip hop for the Jazz Era, and that the trailer is edited in too stylized and speedy a fashion. The movie was shot in Real 3D, adding a whole other layer of complication that I will hold my tongue about, until I see the film.

And yet, I go on my daughter’s FB page and see that she has posted beautiful photos of Carey Mulligan (who plays Daisy), Tobey McGuire as Nick, and Leo as Jay, each dressed in flapper fare and looking oh-so-cool. Watching the trailer, I was pretty excited by the visuals (after all, that’s what the director is known for, starting with Strictly Ballroom, continuing on through Romeo + Juliet  – with Leo, as well – and culminating the maelstrom of song and dance in Moulin Rouge). You don’t make Gatsby with Luhrmann and expect a staid  version of anything… especially not the boozy, dance-heady 20s.

That same daughter had just completed her second major paper on Fitzgerald’s novel; one in 11th grade, and one for a college English seminar. After she finished writing, she told me it had been harder than she’d expected because there are so many ways to parse the complex material. We mused about how many English papers have been written about “The Great Gatsby”.  Millions, we wagered. The story is so rich with symbolism, and replete with wonderful characters (including a perfect question mark of a main character), that it can be interpreted by a different student, for a different professor, for a different course, thousands of ways each semester. 

If you haven’t picked it up lately, do yourself a favor (hey, you have until December!). It’s one of those rare high-school standards that is as good the second around as it was the first. In fact, it’s better with each subsequent reading.

So, if Baz Luhrmann wants to turn the flappers into rappers, and if teenagers who were most recently introduced to Jay Gatsby are excited to line up for a sped-up, musical mashup version of the story, I’m going to dance in the aisles. Even if I am handed a pair of 3D glasses. After all, Luhrmann is just one more avid student of the material giving us his interpretation of an enduring and powerful American story.

Photos thanks to Warner Bros. and Paramount Picures