Well, you guys, it’s finally here. The trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s new version of The Great Gatsby. I have been waiting for this thing to drop since rumors of the film first circulated way back in 2010. You see, The Great Gatsby is my favorite novel and has been for a decade. I absolutely loathe the 1974 Robert Redford film version, and I dislike the 2000 made-for-TV version (starring Paul Rudd as Nick Carraway!). Both films are stodgy and boring, with none of the easy grace of Fitzgerald’s prose. So I for one am happy to see a new vision of the story come to the big screen.
I might be the only one, though. There’s a lot of snickering online about the trailer and its grandiosity (admittedly, the trailer does come a little too close to Moulin Rouge for my taste), and everyone is acting like it’s a damn shame to have a Kayne West/Jay-Z song open the video. Well, my friends, I am here to defend it in all its over-the-top, borderline-silly pomp. The Great Gatsby may be well-respected, but I find that in the real world, a lot of people don’t care for it. It’s easy to see why. Its symbolism isn’t always subtle, the story is theatrical at best and ridiculous at worst, and the characters are unlikeable (although I would be the first to defend half of them). In order to downplay all these things, adaptations of the book have tried too hard to make it super-serious. They let the drama weigh it down.
The Great Gatsby is a very serious book, don’t get me wrong. But people often give it too much credit on its dramatic front and forget just how operatic it is at heart. It’s a big story, full of morally-sticky characters, played out at the edge of America’s most important city, New York. It’s a book that tackles capital-A America. The thing I love most about The Great Gatsby is that it’s essentially allegory writ large, told with some of the cleanest and lightest prose in all of English. Here’s the outsider newbie coming to the New Land (literally). See him meet larger-than-life figures. Watch him start to lose his soul. Stay for the spectacular death. Close with a sweeping monologue. This is a big book packed into less than two hundred pages.
When Baz Luhrmann announced he was tackling Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, I was one of the only people who seemed delighted by the news. Here’s someone who does everything on a too-big scale, and doesn’t a book that is essentially the definitive American opera deserve to be told on a big scale? I have no illusions that I’m going to love this movie; I know I probably won’t even like it (partly because Tobey Maguire, the most boring actor on the planet, is playing my favorite Fitzgerald character, Nick Carraway). But I admire the fact that someone is taking this on, making an Important Book into a spectacle.
I believe that the books we love are loved for incredibly personal reasons. Hundreds and thousands and millions of people may have the same favorite book you do, but I am willing to bet money that each persons’ reasons are completely different. The Great Gatsby is so omnipresent in American literature that it may never get to be viewed on its own merit, but for those of us who do love it, we love it for what we find in it on our own. I love The Great Gatsby because it gets at a particularly middle-class, middle-west identity crisis that I share: that we long to leave our familiar place behind only to find out we don’t belong anywhere else. Nick Carraway’s return to the Midwest at the end of Gatsby breaks my heart. He never should have left in the first place. Neither should have Daisy or James Gatz. It’s a kind of fear that only someone like Fitzgerald - himself a Midwesterner who got the hell out and then never quite found his place in the world – understood. And I understand it as well. Not everyone who loves the book feels this way, though. That’s what makes “big” stories like this great; everyone gets their own distinct thing out of it.
So I applaud the use of “No Church in the Wild.” I applaud the use of big lights and dancers and overdone accents (I’m looking at you, Carey Mulligan). There’s no reason to like this movie. There’s no reason to like the book. There’s no reason to love any verison of The Great Gatsby at all. But for those of us who do love it, we love it in our own weird ways. And this is just one of those weird ways.
Also, I could rlly go for a 2nd Moulin Rouge!. Like, “Moulin Putrid…” or something with a risen-Satin and an ellipsis? Beth, remember what Trilling said of Fitzgerald—”[he] was perhaps the last notable writer to affirm the Romantic fantasy, descended from the Renaissance, of personal ambition and heroism, of life committed to, or thrown away for, some ideal self.” AKA Christian, the Ewan McGregor-character who writes the libretto for the comic-opera starring whores.
I’m quite taken, anyway, with the trailer.
Also, “I wish I’d done everything on Earth with you.” Isn’t that the dearest?