The Great Gatsby: The Book
The Great Gatsby has been my favorite book since the first time I read it in high school. I don't really know why. I guess it's the way one person can be so completely consumed with something that it takes over his entire life, controls his every move. It's fascinating to me, even though I can't relate to it. I've never felt so driven by that kind of desire that it creates the basis of my identity.
For those of you who have been living under a rock, The Great Gatsby tells the story of Jay Gatsby and his undying love for Daisy Buchanan, the girl from his youth whom he fell in love with, but never quite felt good enough for. As a result, he spent his life creating a world of abundant riches and gross luxury. He amassed great amounts of wealth in hopes that he could lure her back to him, despite the fact that she'd already married someone else. He spends his days wheeling and dealing and his nights hosting ridiculously lavish and exceedingly wild parties at his "castle" across the bay from Daisy's house, hoping to catch her attention and pique her interest.
I relate more to the character of Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story, who is on the outskirts of all the drama, but seemed to be unwillingly sucked into it. He's an observer of it all and pretty much the only one who walks away more or less unscathed (despite the movie's assessment that he winds up in a sanitarium...which isn't far out of the realm of possibility). I can relate to Nick because I've never enjoyed being the center of attention. I've always been more of an observer, a sideliner, and when I find myself somehow in the midst of it all, I'm extremely uncomfortable and don't really know what to do with myself.
And then there's Daisy. The perfectly poised girl of Gatsby's dreams, donned always in white, from her dresses to her house to her car. She's the "innocent, pure and perfect" girl Gatsby remembers her to be. She's also extraordinarily selfish, has mood swings like to worst PMS you can imagine and keeps everyone she knows just at arm's length so no one ever realizes she's such a complete confused mess.
I think what I love most about this book is the extreme use of symbolism. Fitzgerald's use of color alone speaks more about his characters and the world they live in than anything they could say. One of the (seven or so) times I read this book, I circled all the colors. Every page has at least one circle. And my very favorite of all of those symbols is the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. It basically embodies Daisy herself: the jealousy Gatsby feels that he doesn't have her, the great wealth Daisy herself possesses and a beacon not just for incoming boats, but also for Gatsby himself. "Here's Daisy!" it says, and gave him something to look at when he couldn't look at her.
My second favorite symbol is the billboard eyes of T.J. Eckleburg. Even in the 1920s, America's values were deteriorating. Money was valued over morals and these eyes, "dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground" in the place of a God that had long been removed from American life. They were simply an advertisement for an optometrist in Queensborough, but in the world of Gatsby, they were as good as God watching over those who had replaced their belief in God with a belief in wealth.
I think F. Scott Fitzgerald's book transcends time. You can see the same paradigms today that he wrote about almost 100 years ago. I think that's part of why it remains such a great story, and why it made such a great movie.
The Great Gatsby: The Movie
I'm not going to say too much about the movie except that I LOVED IT.
I had lowish expectations when I heard that The Great Gatsby was going to be turned into a movie again. The first couple versions I saw left quite a bit to be desired. When I heard Baz Luhrmann was behind it, my confidence increased a touch. If anyone can recreate the Jay Gatsby of F. Scott Fitzgerald's creation, it's Baz Luhrmann.
And I wasn't disappointed. Not even a little bit. The story wasn't changed, with the exception of putting Nick in a sanitarium, but I thought that added to the story. It was the perfect vehicle with which to tell the story on screen.
The biggest problem I've had with previous movies is the downplaying of the character of Gatsby. Gatsby is loud. Colorful. Vivacious. His personality is huge. His parties are huger. And other video versions of Gatsby have been simply watered down. Leonardo DiCaprio did Gatsby right. He threw so much personality into the character that you could actually believe in him.
I also thought Carey Mulligan did an exceptional job at portraying Daisy. She was just standoffish enough, just catty enough, just rude and condescending and completely wishy washy enough.
Overall, the movie followed the book, sometimes even word for word, and gave almost exactly the visual I'd always pictured in my head while reading the book.
Personally, I can't wait to see it again!
Have you seen The Great Gatsby? Have you read it? Did you enjoy either as much as I did?