This weekend David and I went to see our latest exploration of LitFlix, The Great Gatsby. It can be interesting when a movie is based on a classic novel because there is often so much already known about the book or at least an air about the book that can be hard to overcome. So I have to start out saying that while I did enjoy the book and the movie, most of the characters are really just despicable people, which ultimately is kind of the point of the story.
So for those who do not know The Great Gatsby is a love story, but it is also about the self indulgence of Americans in the 1920’s. It also has an interesting look at fulfilling your hope and dreams or being practical. The movie practically contained every line from the book so it is hard to compare in that way, but there are some other items that I think can be discussed with a book like this.(Spoilers for The Great Gatsby to follow)
From the Page to the Screen
So, as is often the case, the problem with changing the story from a book to a movie is getting the visuals right. Often times one of the complaints fans of a book will have is that the movie visuals do not match the description in the book. In many ways The Great Gatsby is a perfect book to turn into a movie because there is some creative freedom for how things should look. There is not specific descriptions about every detail so as you read the book you can let your imagination take hold. This works very nicely with the movie because Baz Luhrman knows how to make things larger than life.
The combination of the movies, the parties, all the visuals help to tell the story. It shows the over-the-top nature of the parties at Gatsby’s house and the contrast between the old rich and the new with the difference between Gatsby’s and the Buchanan’s. The visuals really spoke to the class differences and the idea of privilege in the 1920’s. The haves and the have-nots were very obvious. It is interesting because the narrator of the story is kind of an in-between. He has a regular job, regular house, but still has enough to get by and is not scraping together a living. Many of the contrasts really come out with the visuals of the movie.
The other visual that stood out to me was the neighborhoods and the contrast between East Egg, West Egg, and then New York itself. These pristine neighborhoods with large lawns over looking the water and then having to go through the ash and dust of the back-breaking blue collar workers in the desolate area known as Asheville. The rich had to past through the desolation to get into the city.
Literary Symbols in Movie Form
While the visualization from novel to movie was fantastic some of the literary symbols became a bit more heavy handed (I felt) in the movie. One of the symbols is that in Asheville there is a sign for an oculist called Doctor T.J. Eckleburg, which just has a pair of glasses and eyes floating on a blue background. In the book it is a bit more subtly pointed out that every time one goes to and from the city the eyes are there like someone watching you. Then later Mr. Wilson points out the window of his gas station and says God is watching, which ends up him pointing at the sign.
In the movie it felt like every time they transitioned between the city and East / West Egg they showed the eyes. Now maybe it is because I read the book that this seemed heavy handed, but it definitely had a constant feeling of somebody is watching you. At the same time because the characters in general are such deplorable people there was always something to be watched. Everybody cheats on everybody, drinks heavily, sleeps around, etc. At the same time I feel like seeing the eyes in the background of most shots and maybe focusing on them once would have still gotten the message across. Especially if the eyes are seen at the moment that Mrs. Wilson gets run over.
Finally one of the more interesting pieces was how to tell the story. When you read the book you are hearing everything from Carraway’s perspective and it is obviously after the fact, but in a book we do not question such things. In a movie, we kind of want some premise for why we are listening to this person narrate the story. They show that Carraway has ended up in a sanitarium for depression, excessive drinking, and a list of other things. He starts out talking to the Doctor, but eventually says he doesn’t want to talk about it, that is when the Doctor suggests he try writing. He tells him he can write about anything – and thus begins Carraway writing the book as a thought experiment in the sanitarium to deal with his issues.
I felt that this worked well with the themes of the book and the fact that the story he tells is really quite traumatic. He is also one of the few people who knows the whole truth and that in the end no one really got justice. He talks about being disgusted with everybody and throughout the movie you understand why. Most of the characters use people for their own amusement and do not care about the consequences of their actions, allowing others to pay the price for them. While I did like the movie, it is one I do not know if I would want to watch again. Simply because most of the characters really are selfish, and not many of them have redeeming qualities, which seems to kind of be the point.