Subjective Objectivity – The Blog of The Reasonable Man

January 11, 2011

“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life”

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 2:11 pm

I’m usually a fan of film adaptations of good stories, be it from a book, a play, or even a Hollywood remake of a foreign film, if only because it extends accesibility of the story to an audience that might not otherwise have experienced it. It can also turn an average novel into a far more satisfying piece of entertainment.

However, I am utterly insensible to the idea that F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby should ever be put on screen. This isn’t because it’s my favourite book, or some sacred cow that oughtn’t be sullied by being in 3D. It’s simply that I don’t think it’s possible to do it and retain the charm of the book. Any viewer unfamiliar with the novel* would come away thinking “so what? It was just a doomed romance. No biggie”; anyone who has read it will likely be deeply unsatisfied.

TNC captures it nicely:

“As in so many of the books I love, I found the plot in Gatsby to almost be beside the point. Whenever I see it translated to cinema, the film-maker inevitably crafts a story of doomed romance between Daisy and Gatsby. It’s obviously true that Gatsby holds some sort of flame for Daisy, but what makes the book run (for me) is the ambiguity of that flame. Does he really love her? Or is she just another possession signaling the climb up? I always felt that last point—the climb up—was much more important than the romance. What I remember about Gatsby is the unread books. His alleged love for Daisy barely registers for me.”

Exactly. In adapting the story for cinema, you almost have to, by definition, lose the purpose of the novel. For me the character that simply cannot be translated into live action is that of Nick Carraway, the narrator. His omnipresent take on things is glorious;  his scathing observations so numerous and so divorced from the plot, that to put them on a storyboard would be nearly impossible, beyond simply having almost a verbatim recital of the narrative voice. Which would be tedious. I mean, how does a director convey the sense expressed in the title of this post? Without simply saying it out loud, that is.

Indeed, in order to even include Nick Carraway to a degree that would satisfy a cinema audience, you’d have to infer far more things about his character arc than are really revealed in the book. His relationship with Jordan Baker, for example, is explored in a somewhat throwaway manner, and would require an overly-expositive approach to its telling.

It’s my favourite book for a reason – you can pretty much flick to any page in it and find something captivating and awesome. I suppose if anyone is equal to the task, it is Baz Luhrmann, but I’m not particularly optimistic.

*In my opinion you really have no excuse – it’s short and well written, with themes and sentiments that still obtain today.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable


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