Bottom line, the movie just wasn't that entertaining. Some nice visual flourishes but only sporatic moments of interest in the characters. A failed experiment.
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6. Owl Eyes believes in Gatsby
In one of the book’s funniest scenes, Jordan and Nick wander into Gatsby’s library during a party. There, an inebriated old man with “owl-eyed spectacles” -- “Owl Eyes,” as Nick calls him -- is staring at the books on the shelves. “They’re real,” he announces. “Absolutely real -- have pages and everything. I thought they’d be a nice durable cardboard.”
In the film, Owl Eyes is still in the library but instead insists that Gatsby isn’t real -- that he doesn’t actually exist.
5. Gatsby meets Daisy’s daughter
In both the novel and the film, Daisy pays very little attention to her daughter, Pammy, who represents all of Daisy’s obligations to Tom and the years they’ve spent building a life together. When Pammy comes in to meet Gatsby in the book, Nick notes, “I don’t think he had ever really believed in its existence before” -- it being the child.
This scene doesn’t happen in the film. I wish we could have seen Leo grimacing as he sees proof of the fact that, yes, at one point, Daisy and Tom did love each other enough to consummate their marriage.
4. Myrtle’s death is pretty
In the film, when she gets hit by a car, Myrtle flies gorgeously into the air and drops dead onto the pavement with artistically placed cuts intimating her fatal injuries. In the book, Fitzgerald writes, “[The accident] ripped her open.”
3. Nick doesn’t have a late-night encounter with Mr. McKee
Scandal-obsessed teen students weaned on TMZ and Perez Hilton love speculating about Nick’s possible homosexuality: his obsession with Gatsby; his sexless relationship with Jordan; his comment on the first page that he has “feigned sleep” to avoid hearing about “the secret griefs of wild, unknown men.”
But no scene inspires feverish claims that Nick is gay, or at the very least dabbles in bisexuality, more than the ending of Chapter 2. After getting wasted at Myrtle’s apartment in New York, Nick leaves with Mr. McKee, a neighbor described as “effeminate.” The elevator boy scolds Mr. McKee for accidentally grabbing the phallic elevator lever, and Fitzgerald allows the reader to imagine what he meant to grab. Then, ellipses, and Nick is “standing beside [McKee’s] bed and he was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear.” More ellipses, and Nick is back at Penn Station, waiting for the train.
None of this makes it into the film.
2. Gatsby is the only one whose fortune is tainted
As all my students can now coherently explain (I hope), Fitzgerald does his best to skewer the American Dream: the idea that people who work hard will make more money and can ascend in class. Luhrmann picks up on the point that social mobility is damn near impossible but neglects to emphasize the many places where Fitzgerald points out that most people, not just Gatsby the bootlegger, gain their money through unethical means -- or by doing nothing at all.
Gatsby doesn’t inherit the money left to him by alcoholic yacht-owner Dan Cody because Cody’s mistress, Ella Kaye, kills Cody and engineers some legal machinations to get the fortune herself. Nick mentions that his family made its money when his grandfather sent a substitute to the Civil War and started a hardware business.
1. Nick never catalogs the people who came to Gatsby’s parties
In an allusion to Homer’s catalog of the ships and captains who traveled to Troy to fight in The Iliad, Fitzgerald spends three pages at the start of Chapter 4 on an elaborate party guest list. As in, these are the people we worship in society now: not great heroes and warriors, but drunken rich people. Elevator Repair Service, the experimental theater company that produced the critically acclaimed Gatz, a seven-hour play that involves reading the novel aloud in its entirety, at one point envisioned these pages filmed in the style of Martin Scorcese’s famous tracking shot in Goodfellas, scanning over each party attendee as we hear about the grisly ends so many of them meet.
The pages are somewhat boring to read, so I can see why Luhrmann might have deemed them superfluous, but adding a visual element to the catalogue would have improved it tenfold. A major missed opportunity.
And what else? Believe me, I could go on about this for hours, but …
Daisy never calls Nick “Nicky.” Wolfsheim has human molar cufflinks, not a human molar tie pin. Klipspringer, the boarder, is a terrible piano player and is certainly not related to Beethoven, as the movie claims. Jordan and Nick make out. Jordan is a compulsive liar. Gatsby’s parents are “shiftless and unsuccessful” but not “dirt-poor.” Gatsby’s father and Owl Eyes both attend Gatsby’s funeral; Nick isn’t the only one, as the movie claims. There is no mention of Daisy and Gatsby maintaining their tight control over their public masks by not drinking. We never hear that Daisy’s voice is “full of money.” We never hear Nick say he believes himself to be “one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”
And at one point in the book, Gatsby says he’s from the Midwest. When Nick asks where, specifically, Gatsby replies, “San Francisco.” What? Hilarious! Why would you cut that?
No, seriously. Why, Baz Luhrmann? Why?
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