Friday, May 25, 2012

Gatsby, still great

Whenever a new film version of a good book comes out, I almost always decide I want to read or reread the book before I see the movie.

That's how I feel about the new Baz Luhrmann production of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, which will be released sometime this year.  I'm pretty excited about the movie, especially since I thought the 1974 version failed to capture the book's magic.

And what is that magic?  It's a book about moneyed people who went to the right schools and have the right bloodlines; and about a newcomer trying to break into their midst.  He too has lots of money, but remains an outsider.  None of the characters in the novel inspire any affection in the reader, because they are all shallow jerks.  Do you root for Gatsby and Daisy to have a happy ending?  Why?  It's not like they deserve one.

And yet, The Great Gatsby is beautiful.  It's not just about rich people behaving badly; it's also about longing for the impossible, striving for something you don't realize you can't have until it's too late.  It's about the way people attempt to reinvent themselves, not always with perfect success.  These characters search for meaning in a post-war world that's cynical, materialistic, and corrupt.

The movie certainly seems to have captured the "rich people" part of the novel; but will it succeed in evoking the ache behind the glitz?  Who knows?

One thing the movie won't do is capture the power of F. Scott Fitzgerald's writing.  If you haven't read Gatsby since high school, you might not remember Fitzgerald's amazing ability to string together wonderful sentences.  Take my advice and read it again before heading out to the theater.

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