Why Everyone's Worried About the New 'Great Gatsby' Movie

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Deadline/Scribner


Carey Mulligan must be happy. As our own Kevin Fallon wrote earlier this week, the young actress won the coveted role of Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann's new production of The Great Gatsby. Mulligan beat the likes of Scarlett Johannson, and Keira Knightly for the role of F. Scott Fitzgerald's greatest femme fatale, joining an already gaudy cast that includes Lurhmann favorite Leonardo DiCarprio in the title role and Tobey Maguire in the infinitely more meaty part of Nick Carraway. The only leaves Tom Buchanan and Jordan Baker as major parts left unfilled. Make we suggest Chris Pine or Ryan McPartlin for Tom? Blake Lively, who reportedly auditioned as Daisy, makes much more sense as the jaunty golfer. There is no word yet on who will play Myrtle Wilson or Ewing "The Boarder" Klipspringer, but yours truly—a self-avowed Fitzgerald freak from way back—is openly campaigning for a cameo as "Owl Eyes," Gatsby's otherwise unnamed library patron.

The hype around the casting of Gatsby is unusual enough—virtually unprecedented for a non-superhero movie. More interesting, though, are the arguments against making the film at all. New York magazine reported that Mulligan won the Daisy role under the headline "Should They Even Be Making Another Great Gatsby Movie?" Mulligan herself seems to think so. Reports say that she wept openly—in front of Anna Wintour, no less—when Lurhmann called to give her the news.

Her fellow Briton, Sarah Churchwell, disagrees. Writing in The Guardian (UK), Churchwell argued that Luhrmann's film will inevitably fail to capture the majesty of Fitzgerald's work, just as have the half-dozen screen adaptations before it.

Churchwell is right that Luhrmann's adaptation is doomed to fall short—"fail" is far too strong of a word for a director that could make a Shakespearean tragedy work as a rock video. The film won't come close the power of the novel, but not simply because Gatsby is a book, and, as the cliché insists, the Book is Always Better Than The Movie. Film versions of Fitzgerald's masterwork inevitably fail because of the kind of novel Gatsby is—frankly thin on story, but incredibly thick with introspection, thoughts unspoken, intricately woven metaphor, and long, dazzling descriptions of otherwise mundane things like sunsets, front lawns and angry wives that are only special because of how the narrator describes them.

Not every book is better than the movie, after all. David Fincher's film version of Fight Club is infinitely more entertaining than Chuck Palahniuk's original novel, and Francis Ford Coppola turned The Godfather from an average crime story by Mario Puzo into an all-time classic. Those books made such good movies because their plots are visual and action-packed. Gatsby's plot isn't. The story is a trifle, really—a parvenu criminal has a love affair with an old flame that goes horribly wrong. H. L. Mencken called it "a glorified anecdote." The novel's genius is in how Fitzgerald can invest mere tabloid fodder with some sort of epic grandeur. He delves deeply into his character's thoughts, Nick's semi-omnipotent narration describing motives and sensations that simply don't translate well to the screen.

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Hampton Stevens is a writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, ESPN the Magazine, Playboy, Gawker, Maxim, and many more publications.

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