By Gatsby, I mean the Great One. You know, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. The Great Gatsby. So here we are. I read The Great Gatsby junior year in school. I even had the good fortune of an English teacher who chose to show us the 1974 movie version. My opinion of the book was not particularly high, mostly because it was AP English exam year, I had to write about a dozen essays about the book, and then the movie kind of killed it for me. Everyone was very sweaty, overly shiny with money and clothes, and the partying and excess was sickening. I later described the experience as eating too much cake frosting.
In all honesty, I forgot about our dear friends bestowed upon us by Fitzgerald until several entrances in my life were made. First, I discovered an online store that sold T-shirts (and other things) with old book covers on them (FYI: Out of Print Clothing, and no, they definitely are not compensating me with this bonus advertisement) and then I was published in my university’s new literary magazine that was named after good old Eckleburg. Then I found out the movie was going to be released this summer and I was sort of swept up in the hype.
There are a lot of factors about the movie and the book that I would love to discuss. I truly enjoyed the movie this time around, and I think Baz Luhrmann did a fantastic job (and am happy to discuss with anyone who agrees or disagrees) but what I’m all about is something my friend brought up after he watched the new version. It reminded him why he disliked the book.
See, he does not identify with any of the characters. He asked, “Am I supposed to feel sorry for any of the characters? For Gatsby, who is a thief and Tom, who certainly sets the double standard?” Thinking about it, he is certainly right. When you look at that whole set of characters, they are appalling brats. Even Gatsby, who may have started out poor but I think was born mentally entitled, acts as if he has the right to own what he wants.
But the thing about The Great Gatsby is not the characters themselves; instead, the issue at play is the American Dream. Bear with me, I am going to try avoiding sounding like my English teacher’s lesson. However, a main theme in the book is that these people have everything they could want; specifically, they have money, which is often the key to most people’s American Dream. Even with that money, they still cannot get things right! Just like everyone else, they are not gods but humans who made some pretty dark mistakes in the past that lead to major consequences that money cannot help them solve.
Even then, the book is not solely about money and the American Dream. When my friend said he did not identify with any of the characters, I was taken aback because my experience of the film was different. I was like Nick, the observer, and I was like Gatsby, the hopeful. I certainly hope my similar qualities don’t make my ending similar to theirs. Yet, the identification I felt was strong. I feel that all of those characters are relatable if you get past their spoiled ways. I think that makes the book more than a commentary on American society or a well-written story. I also think that Luhrmann’s retelling of Gatsby captured everything about the book. What’s more, part of what he captures is exactly what I felt when I saw the 1974 version: the excitement and fervor of Gatsby life in the twenties, and the absolute revulsion that the lifestyle causes. The fact that Luhrmann managed to make it feel like eating a large, decadent meal that satisfies too fully and makes you ready to throw up at the same time is what made this movie great.
Perhaps I am incorrect, and my friend more so, but I’m up for the discussion. Anyone else? Please?