Some Reactions to “The Great Gatsby” Trailer

Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Joel Ederton as the story's main characters

The trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the classic Fitzgerald novel The Great Gatsby went live mere minutes ago. Set to be released sometime this Christmas, the film has many literary folks skeptical and lower key fans of the novel buzzing. Gatsby will forever be one of my favorite novels. It was really the first book I ever connected with, the one that made me love literature and become an English major. So naturally, I’ve been following the news for this movie since it was first announced. With a star-studded cast and a decent budget, the film is bound to do well. But will it be able to appease both diehard fans of the novel and newcomers alike? Will it reach any measure of critical acclaim?

Based on the trailer, it’s tough to say. Film adaptations of The Great Gatsby have always struggled because the original story is told through the honest, quiet perspective of our narrator, Nick Carraway. We see our eponymous hero – millionaire Jay Gatsby – through the eyes of Nick. We see it all through a filtered lens so we never get the true picture, do we? It’s a genius way of doing it really. Just as we can’t look directly at the sun for fear of burning our eyes, if granted a direct view of a tragic figure, we are only bound to dislike them. But Gatsby? Well they don’t call him Great for nothing.

So what to do when you’re shooting a movie based on a source material that relies heavily on a first-person narrator? My American Lit professor once told me that was where all the previous film adaptations of Gatsby faltered. The omniscient perspective mixes up the framework of the storytelling, allowing the filmmakers to make assumptions about what goes on behind the scenes where Nick is not present. So we get Gatsby and Daisy dancing, Gatsby and Daisy having sex, all sorts of things that are merely implicated in the book are instead shown to us directly. And Nick is left to stand quite dumbly on the side of things. Keeping Nick involved will be the real challenge for this recent adaptation.

Since first hearing it, I’ve thought the cast has been superbly chosen. DiCaprio has this quality about him, not unlike Brad Pitt, where whenever you watch him on screen it’s hard not to see Leonardo DiCaprio playing a role. You don’t lose yourself in the artistry. Both DiCaprio and Pitt are superb actors, but their personal fame outweigh their performances (for me at least). It was Leo I saw diving through dreams in “Inception” with Juno and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, not the character Cobb. But you know what? That’s perfect! *spoiler alert* For those of you that have read the book, you know that Jay Gatsby is just the persona created by Jay Gatz to win back his long-lost love, Daisy Buchanon. A poor farm boy had the dream and drive to create a persona out of the nothingness that was his former life. So whenever we see Jay Gatsby, he’s just a poor farm boy pretending to be something he’s not. That one step movement away from the direct acting works in Leo’s favor here. And I think Leo is going to knock it out of the ballpark. Even in the trailer you can see his constant fear and near anguish, his subtle insecurities that are covered up by his flashy shirts, bright ascots, and ostentatious parties.

But enough general blabbing. On to the trailer itself: the soundtrack, the style, the effects. It’s all disgustingly contemporary! Sure, in the book they say things like “Oh my, another one of Gatsby’s wild parties!” but it’s the 1920s! Why are there dance raves and glitter raining from the sky in this trailer? This isn’t the playboy mansion we’re looking at. It’s the house of Jay Gatsby! The parties featured in the trailer are truly spectacular, but they don’t set the same mood as the book does. It almost feels like Gatsby ought to be played by Jay-Z or Hugh Hefner. The parties are too crazy! I suppose it might just be the slow and hazy way in which Nick views the world in the books, but I never really imagined the parties being quite so wild. Needless to say, the parties in the film sure do look entertaining to watch, but it sets up a tone for the film that feels much too contemporary and lacks the dream-like sentimentality of the book.

The acting all around looks great so far. Tobey Maguire stares wide-eyed at everything and appears timid, just as Nick Carraway is supposed to. He’s quietly skeptical of everything throughout, yet winds up being fiercely loyal once he realizes Gatsby’s ethereal capacity to make his dreams into reality. And Carey Mulligan as Daisy seems to be a perfect choice. You can see her fear and dissatisfaction, her personal carelessness and recklessness; here is a woman who fancies herself a tragic figure and uses that assumption as an excuse to not take control of her own life. Joel Edgerton also certainly seems to fit the bill as the bullish Tom Buchanon, whatwith his silly-looking mustache and all those suspicious glances!

By the end of it, the trailer makes the movie look dramatic and flashy, two things that don’t quite come across in the book. I’m hardly ever a purist when it comes to film adaptations so I’m still definitely very excited to see this movie, but I also have a feeling that literature professors from around the world are vomiting in their office trash bins and already prepping their negative comments. Will I love it? Definitely. Will I love the book more? Always.