The Great Gatsby: Luhrmann v. Fitzgerald
From super evildoer Tom Buchanan, to a modernistic, rap party, the Great Gatsby, directed by Baz Luhrmann, contrasts the written version of the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald in many ways. This contrast provided by the movie creates a different interpretation of the intended meaning and importance of the characters, scenes, and images in the written version. This is evident through the emphasis or importance of certain characters and the relationships between some characters, the modern, rap-filled soundtrack of the movie and the placement of those songs, and the different portrayal of Daisy and Tom Buchanan. In addition, the movie adaptation also leaves out a few important scenes that deem necessary to the plot. The movie and book relate in many ways, but it’s the small changes from the text to the movie that affect the interpretation that someone may have. The significance of changing the interpretation is that it can spin a new meaning and way of thinking about the content of the text or movie.
First, the movie adaptation of the Great Gatsby begins with the symbolic green light that Gatsby fixates upon and the appearance of one of the narrator, Nick Carraway in “The Perkins Sanitarium”. Nick tells the entire story and writes the book in this sanitarium. Like the movie, the text begins with background story of Nick and how he ended up living next door to the mysterious, wealthy Gatsby. But, the difference in the beginnings can skew the interpretations between the movie and text. The text insinuates that Nick Carraway is the main character and focuses on the way that Nick judges and feels towards certain characters. On the other hand, the movie implies that Nick is just a “morbid alcoholic”, writer that is telling the love-filled, mysterious, story of Gatsby. The movie reverts back to Nick in the sanitarium and focuses in on the always-appearing green light. This approach by the movie can change the view and interpretation of the viewers.
For example, if the movie focuses more on Nick simply being the writer of Gatsby’s story, then it leaves out the texts’ intention of having Nick not only being the narrator, but also being a mediator of judgments. In the movie, Nick doesn’t often explain or show how he actually feels towards the characters, while in the book Nick clearly describes the appearance of other characters and these descriptions depict how he judges or feels about that person. For instance, in the movie Tom and Nick appear to be best friends at the beginning. They greet each other with smiles, nicknames, and stories, whereas in the text, Nick describes Tom’s appearance as, “Two shining arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and have him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward…It was a body capable of enormous leverage – a cruel body”(Fitzgerald.7). This difference in interpretation between the text and movie creates contrast between them.
The movie portrays Tom as an extreme evildoer, but Nick doesn’t seem to notice at the beginning, while from the start in the text, Tom appears to Nick as a threatening, hulking person. These changes with the views each medium has between the two characters of Tom and Nick affects the overall message of Nick. Nick, in the text, is seen as being more than just a writer or narrator, but the person who determines how one would feel towards other characters. The text focuses immediately on the hulking Tom through Nick’s words, while the movie allows the viewer to gradually feel a certain way towards Tom’s character because Nick doesn’t react in a disapproving way at the beginning.
Next, between the movie and the text there are some relatively minor, but still important, scenes that are left out or changed. This can affect the overall message and interpretation of the adaptation. First, in the text there is evidence of a relationship between Nick and Jordan Baker. The text alludes to this relationship often and describes it in chapter three and Nick said once, “Her gray, sun-stained eyes stared straight ahead, but she had deliberately shifted our relations, and for a moment I though I loved her”(Fitzgerald.58). This mention of a relationship between Jordan and Nick in the text and not in the movie further affirms that the movie adaptation focuses almost entirely on the story of Gatsby and does not take notice to Jordan Baker, or Nick’s relationship to her.
In addition, the movie adaptation eliminated two scenes that seemed important to the overall meaning of the written version. The first scene deals with the importance of the attendance of Owl Eyes and Gatsby’s father at the funeral is that there was at least a few people who respected, if not cared for, who Gatsby was or what he was about. Owl Eyes, in the text, was the man in the library who appreciated Gatsby’s books, but, although he still was in the library looking at the books, the movie implies that Owl Eyes did not believe that Gatsby is made-up. In the movie, neither Owl Eyes nor Gatsby’s dad attended the funeral. Nick says, “But not a single one of the sparkling hundreds that enjoyed his hospitality, attended the funeral”(Luhrmann.The Great Gatsby).
This changes the overall interpretation from the text that at least someone, other than Nick, cared about what Gatsby was and who he was as a person. Secondly, the importance of the scene with Mr. Mckee is that it adds speculation that Nick is gay. This scene is present in the text to add that speculation and spark questioning within the reader. On the other hand, the movie omits this scene, keeping the viewers from speculating and questioning Nick’s sexuality. In the film, the soundtrack seems to represent the intention of Fitzgerald, or Nick’s, tone in the text well.
Although the soundtrack is flooded with rap music that further modernizes the movie, the music is placed in correct spots and, overall, adds a lot to the scenes. When added to the modern party scenery, the contemporary rap allows us to interpret the extravagance of the parties and the mansion that the text intended. It is based in the Roaring Twenties and the movie, for showman’s sake, adds the rap music to appease the viewers instead of sticking with the music of that time. The music may contrast the time period, but the message is clear and the placing of the songs is precise and suitable. The significance of omitting these scenes and using this soundtrack is to change the interpretation that viewer would have in opposition to the text and the movie succeeds in doing this due to the missing love life of Nick, the absences of certain characters at the funeral, and the avoidance of speculation of Nick’s sexuality.
Finally, the portrayals of Daisy and Tom display the most change from the text to the movie. Daisy, in the text, is described as having a “voice that the ear follows up and down…”(Fitzgerald.9), a face that was “lovely with bright things in it”(Fitzgerald.9), but, looking past her physical description, she proved to be an insincere and indecisive person. To contrast, in the movie, up until the point where Daisy kills Myrtle, she appears as innocent. For example, she does not display her enticing voice or bright eyes, but rather, her soft, discreet voice and quiet eyes. It is her physical appearance and voice that makes her appear as innocent in the movie. This is present in the scene where she is explaining her daughter to Nick. Her facial expression and tone of voice indicate an innocent feeling, but the movie differs from the book because it leaves out the part where she nonchalantly gives the baby to the nanny.
Her innocence is not supported and she comes off as a phony in the text, but in the movie she is quiet, victimized, and appears as an innocent instrument of Tom and Gatsby’s relentless battle for her love. Tom is depicted as a supervillian in the movie. The text did portray Tom slightly as a bad guy, but not to the extent that the movie did. In the scene in the text where George is mourning his wife’s murder, Tom does not directly state whose car it was; however, in the film, Tom said it was Gatsby’s car and then said, “Gatsby…somethin’ ought to be done about a fella like that”(Luhrmann.The Great Gatsby). Tom displays his villainy in this scene and plants the image of murder into George’s head. The movie uses Tom as an image of evil and the book differs to the extent of how wicked Tom actually is. The film overblows the intended interpretation of Tom from the book and twists his character to fit the modern-day hero and villain movie standard.
To conclude, there are many similarities and differences between the film and book of The Great Gatsby, but the changes that are made to the film distort and adjust the viewers’ interpretation of many scenes and characters. Tom’s villainy, for example, was a main scene that distorted the intention of the text. The movie changed both the way that I saw Tom and Daisy and my view on what Nick would become after Gatsby’s death.