Director Baz Luhrmann's rowdy, cluttered adaptation of The Great Gatsby is a difficult film to categorize. It's not a satire, exactly, though many of its strongest moments are openly satirical. It is far too literal a translation to be considered an homage. And its oddly straightforward, even innocent, air disqualifies it as a subversion. Luhrmann seems to want us to feel more or less what Fitzgerald wanted us to feel, only more loudly. Call it a "melodramatization."
To this end, Luhrmann turns every dial at his disposal up to 11. His colors are as bright as those in a detergent commercial; his musical choices as intrusive as the exit cues on an awards show. The camera ducks and swerves like O.J. Simpson on his way to a car rental, and the cast all share a slightly vibratory, methamphetamine sheen. Topping off such excesses of cinematic technique, this Gatsby is rendered in 3D, an innovation only moderately less absurd than presenting Moby Dick in Sensurround, or Cannery Row in Smell-O-Vision. In short, although Luhrmann's film mostly adheres to the letter of Fitzgerald's novel, it would be difficult to envision a work less in keeping with its wistful spirit.
The movie opens with Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) setting the stage in tremulous voiceover. Much of his introduction is Fitzgerald's familiar prose—"In my younger and more vulnerable years...," etc., etc.—though the script, by Luhrmann and his usual writing partner Craig Pearce (brother of Guy), does supply some odd and off-key additions. ("All of us drank too much back then...and none of us contributed anything new," Nick explains anachronistically, as if gazing back on 1922 from the present day, rather than 1925.) But odder still are the alterations to Nick's backstory—or, I suppose, fore-story, given that it takes place after the principal events of the film. This Nick has not merely been jaded by his experiences with Jay Gatsby and Tom and Daisy Buchanan, he's been driven around the bend: He now resides in a sanatorium, and his purpose in telling the story is a bid for therapeutic redemption.