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The Great Gatsby – From Book to Film Essay

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“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a wonderfully written book, and like most good books, there were movies to follow. The 1974 movie starring Robert Redford as Gatsby and the 2013 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio both stayed pretty true to the book. One noticeable difference, however, is in the newer version of the movie; Nick Carraway is a patient at a mental institute, telling the story of Gatsby to a doctor.

The newer movie also attempts to liven up the storyline a bit, but stays true to the plot while doing so. The older version starts off slow, and continues to have a slow, dull tone to the story. Both movies did a good job portraying the novel, but the 2013 version added a little modern day spice. Baz Luhrmann, the director of the 2013 Great Gatsby movie, boldly decided to modernize the story of Gatsby when producing his movie. Kay Shackleton, a film critic, discusses this perfectly in her critique of the film, “Baz Luhrmann creates a stylistic modern version of the classic novel. The 3-D imagery and mix of old music with newer music, including rap fit well in this alternative universe that is of the twenty-first century Gatsby.

The newer music serves as a whisper to the future and works well with the commentary on social culture that is uttered by the brutish Tom Buchanan. ” (Shackleton). It is an interesting way to portray Gatsby’s story, and Luhrmann certainly took a gamble when deciding to do so. In the end, it seems to work out pretty well for him, even though many viewers disagreed with the modern take of it. He still stays true to the story line aside from the reason for Nick’s narrating.

Staying true to the storyline, however, isn’t always the most important thing when recreating a novel into a movie as one can see with the 1974 version. Although the 1974 movie stays true to the story line of the novel, the director, Jack Clayton, spent too much time on the scenery and picture of the movie and in doing so, didn’t fully capture the emotion and personalities of the characters. Film critic Roger Ebert had this to say about the issue, “I wonder what Fitzgerald, whose prose was so graceful, so elegantly controlled, would have made of it: of the willingness to spend so much time and energy on exterior effect while never penetrating to the souls of the characters. (Ebert). Ebert questions Clayton’s style and wonders if Fitzgerald would be upset at the lack of time spent on the characters. When reading the novel, one can feel the emotion in the characters words, and the movie just doesn’t do this justice.

One example would be when Gatsby meets Daisy for the first time. In the 1974 movie, Gatsby is shown sweating profusely and almost creepy while Daisy is sitting there stunned. The movie holds these faces for far too long and it changes the emotions trying to be captured. This is a very crucial part of the story and the way Clayton produced it changes the meaning behind the encounter. In the novel, Fitzgerald portrays a flustered Gatsby who is acting like a young boy talking to his crush for the first time.

Fitzgerald uses the old clock and time in general to show Gatsby’s attempt in “turning back the clocks” to the time when he and Daisy were so close. Fitzgerald portrays Gatsby as a nervous wreck as he even knocks down the clock in his flustered state. “‘We’ve met before,’ muttered Gatsby. His eyes glanced momentarily at me, and his lips parted with an abortive attempt at a laugh. Luckily the clock took this moment to tilt dangerously at the pressure of his head, whereupon he turned and caught it with trembling fingers and set it back in place. Then he sat down, rigidly, his elbow on the arm of the sofa and his chin in his hand.

” (Fitzgerald). The symbolism of the clock and time is a big part of the relationship between Daisy and Gatsby and Clayton takes it out completely in his awkward portrayal of their reuniting. In the 2013 version, Baz Luhrmann does a wonderful job recreating this scene in his film. When Leonardo Dicaprio’s Gatsby meets Daisy again for the first time in years in the newer version of the movie, he is acting exactly as one would picture him when reading the story.

He is a nervous wreck before she shows up and when they encounter for the first time, they both seem embarrassed as Nick Carraway’s character points out during the scene. Luhrmann adds a bit by having Gatsby run out of the house when Daisy arrives and then coming back to the front door soaking wet. Luhrmann also keeps the part where Gatsby knocks down the clock and the lines during this scene are identical to those in the novel. There is no uncomfortable feeling while watching this scene as there are when watching the older version of the movie. Luhrmann captures the emotions of each character during this scene nicely and he doesn’t go over the top at all.

Another interesting scene to compare between the two movies and novel is the ending where Wilson shoots Gatsby. In the novel, Fitzgerald writes, “The chauffeur – he was one of Wolfsheim’s proteges – heard the shots – afterward he could only say that he hadn’t thought anything much about them. I drove from the station directly to Gatsby’s house and my rushing anxiously up the front steps was the first thing that alarmed any one. But they knew then, I firmly believe. [] It was after we started with Gatsby toward the house that the gardener saw Wilson’s body a little way off in the grass, and the holocaust was complete. ” (Fitzgerald).

The setting in the story was that of little worry or alarm by anyone except Nick. As he wrote, everyone acted as if nothing had happened, but Nick states he believed everyone actually knew; they just pretended not to. The older version of the film went along with the setting present in the novel. Gatsby is seen lounging in the pool on his raft, muttering Daisy’s name every so often. Then Wilson is shown creeping through his house with a brown bag, clearly concealing a gun. He takes the gun out, sneaks up on Gatsby, and then shoots him a few times before shooting himself.

Clayton did a good job with the scene and didn’t add anything or leave anything out. In the 2013 movie, however, Luhrmann decides to add a little to it as he did so often throughout his screenplay. In the newer version of the movie, Gatsby is shown casually swimming in his pool while his chauffer waits next to an out-door phone for a call from Daisy. It then cuts to Daisy picking up her phone, then back to the pool scene where the phone begins to ring. Gatsby mutters “Daisy” and grins a little.

He his now standing on steps that lead him out of the pool when a gun shot his heard and Gatsby looks down at his chest where blood is starting to come out. Wilson is then shown putting the gun in his mouth and as Gatsby hits the pool, a second gunshot is heard. The camera then cuts to Nick Carraway on the phone is an office, screaming asking “is everything alright!? ”, and then cuts back to the pool scene where the phone is shown hanging off the hook and the chauffer standing away in awe. Luhrmann’s recreation of this scene is interesting as he actually had the phone ring, making Gatsby think Daisy was calling him as he died when it was really Nick calling to see how things were going. I like the newer version of the movie over the older version, mainly because of these two scenes. The killing of Gatsby is intensified in Luhrmann’s version, which I like because it matches the intensity that should be there when the main character, The GREAT Gatsby, is murdered.

I also did not like how Clayton cut out Gatsby knocking over the clock while reuniting with Daisy, because that had so much symbolism in the novel and was really a large part of not only that scene, but the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy as a whole. With that being said, neither movie can compare to reading the novel. I’ve always personally enjoyed the book better whenever there was a movie made about one, because it is a lot more fun imagining the characters and scenery for yourself than someone else doing it for you. The older movie was too slow and boring for me, and the newer movie was a little over the top at some points.

All in all, The Great Gatsby is a story that I really enjoy and would have no problem re-reading the novel again, or re-watching either movie.


Ebert, Roger. “The Great Gatsby Movie Review (1974). ” All Content. N.

p. , n. d. Web.

16 Apr. 2015. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 2004.

Print. Shackleton, Kay. “Leonardo DiCaprio Is This Generation’s ‘The Great Gatsby'” Examiner. com. N.

p. , 9 June 2013. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.

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