Tl;DR: The novel scores a 6/10. The adaptation, a 9/10. I know that there are lots of interpretations of ‘The Great Gatsby’. My own is not one which analyses the American Dream and the notion of money. My interpretation focuses, very briefly, on the human conditions of hope and love. Contains spoilers. (P.s. the featured image isn’t mine, if anyone knows the content creator let me know and I will, of course, credit them).
‘Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And then one fine morning — So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”.
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
I first read ‘The Great Gatsby’ two years ago. Unusually, I had seen the movie before I read the book. And what I’m about to tell you next will probably only ever be expressed by me on this one occasion.
*coughs…chokes…splutters*: The movie was better than the novel.
Don’t look at the screen like that…don’t judge me!
I joke, judge away – it is what it is.
And what it is, is that Baz Luhrmann killed it with his 2013 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. And while Fitzgerald’s novel is deemed to be the zenith of American fiction, and although there is no disputing that he is the master of description – I just liked the movie more.
And that in large, is because I feel as though Gatsby has been portrayed differently across both mediums. Luhrmann’s adaptation presents Gatsby, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, as The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, offers the reader, The ‘Meh’ Gatsby.
Whichever Gatsby you’re following, be it The Great Gatsby on your screen in Luhrmann’s adaptation, or what I call, The ‘Meh’ Gatsby, presented in Fitzgerald’s novel, the plot remains the same. And the story that we are told, recalled by our now, clearly unreliable, alcoholic narrator, Nick Carraway, is essentially a romantic one.
At its centre is Mr Jay Gatsby, of whom very little is known. All we really know of Gatsby is that he hosts the largest parties in New York, against a backdrop of grandeur and opulence.
That is until our protagonist Nick, who is Gatsby’s neighbor and second cousin to a one Daisy Buchanan, receives an invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties.
He becomes a close friend of Gatsby’s and it is through him that we learn that Gatsby, who has for the last five years been throwing these extravagant parties, has only done so in the hopes that perhaps one day, Daisy might just wonder in. (Did I mention that Gatsby has oh-so-conveniently located his party island just opposite from where Daisy lives? 😂 It’s a little bit psycho, I can’t lie).
You might be thinking “Bloody hell, old sport. Bit extreme throwing all these parties just to get a bit of attention from the woman you love, isn’t it”? But it’s not. You see Gatsby has his reasons.
He had tried to pursue Daisy five years earlier, when he was but a poor young soldier. He was, quite frankly, an ineligible suitor for someone of Daisy’s social status. It didn’t matter that he loved her and worshipped the ground that she walked on. Her family would not accept it; Daisy was in a hurry and time was of the essence. Simply put, she couldn’t wait around.
So she married Tom and became Mrs Buchanan.
Meanwhile, as it happens, Gatsby achieves all of his dreams – he is affluent, he is (if only by his own self-proclamation) an “Oxford man” and most importantly; he becomes an eligible suitor.
At last: Gatsby is good, Gatsby is great.
All he needed was a bit of time.
But it’s too late.
We as the reader can see this. We as people who are not blinded by an unwavering love, can see this. This is the 1920’s. Daisy is married. Her loyalties and affection belong to Tom. This idea of Gatsby and Daisy living happily ever after, cannot be.
We know this, but Gatsby does not.
And that’s what really grips me – that’s what makes this adaptation, and the novel too, one that I have not been able to forget since the first time I watched the movie two years ago. It reveals the human condition of hope and love. It demonstrates that when you are in love, like really, really in love (none of that mere infatuation stuff), the hope that comes in the form of love blinds you to any of life’s impossibilities. You develop tunnel vision, much like Gatsby did in his goal of attaining Daisy.
The unabashed spirit of hope captured in Nick’s closing words is both beautiful and tragic:
“It (love) eluded us then…but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And then one fine morning — So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”.