Ever since my girlfriend and I met in college 4 years ago, we have had differing opinions on The Great Gatsby, both the novel and its adaptations. It was a never-ending source of amusement to those around us in our English classes and continues to be so for our friends who know us now. Because my girlfriend and I read Gatsby for book club, we also decided to watch both adaptations afterward. Of course, we’d both already seen the movies and formed our different opinions, but watching the films again was a fun way to finish out our reading and see if any opinions had changed. Spoiler alert: they have not.
I’ll start with the 1974 version, commonly referred to as the Robert Redford version.
The Great Gatsby (1974)
Motion Picture Rating: PG
Release Date: 1974
Director: Jack Clayton
Runtime: 144 mins.
Adapted From: The Great Gatsby
This is my favorite of the two films by far. It doesn’t have all the flashy technology and flair because of its age, but to me, it better represents the book. Most (if not all) of the dialogue is taken straight from the book. It is pretty much a straight cut-and-dry adaptation. Obviously not all the events from the novel are featured in the film, but nothing is really different—it’s all what I expect, and I like that. I especially like that the characters are how I picture them in the novel: Tom is a racist, macho jerk; Daisy is just…not all there; Jordan very flirty and cool; Nick just a kind guy in the background. And yes, it is a bit slow in the beginning, but to me, that’s how to book reads—slow building until Daisy and Tom attend one of Gatsby’s parties. From there, it climaxes and slowly falls, and the film mimics this.
That’s what I enjoy in an adaptation—seeing the book mirrored on screen. However, I do know other people enjoy much looser adaptations, such as the 2013 version of Gatsby.
The Great Gatsby (2013)
Motion Picture Rating: PG-13
Release Date: 2013
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Runtime: 143 mins.
Adapted From: The Great Gatsby
My girlfriend prefers this version of Gatsby. One of her favorite films is Moulin Rouge!, so of course she was excited that Baz Luhrmann would be adapting his own Gatsby. This version is definitely more colorful, musical (mostly modern, jazzy R&B/hip-hop), and fast-paced. It was directed towards a modern audience which, though I do appreciate, just didn’t translate well for me. The events are kept mostly the same as the novel, which I do appreciate. They did suggest that Nick is writing The Great Gatsby from a mental institution after the entire events of the novel, which was an interesting assumption and worked fairly well. And while the modern music was one of my least-favorite additions to the film, I’d have the say the biggest reason I dislike the film is the alteration of Daisy.
Nick and Tom were perfect, Jordan and Gatsby were alright, but Daisy… She just wasn’t the Daisy from the novel. Luhrmann’s Daisy was too collected and way too sympathetic. She was likeable. While I do feel some sympathy towards Daisy in the novel, I mostly dislike the fact that she’s almost exactly like Tom but pretends she’s not. She’s not a good person. And she’s definitely a little mental. But in the 2013 movie, Daisy feels like a completely different person. Even after she kills someone, it’s still so hard to dislike her in the film. To me, when you change so much about who a character is, the movie becomes less of an adaptation and more of a different story altogether. And I do believe a movie can be a good movie and a bad adaptation at the same time, which is why I don’t hate this version of Gatsby, I just don’t prefer it, and I don’t think it’s a good adaptation because of how they changed Daisy.
Re-watching the movies did not sway Kristen’s opinion at all. I did enjoy the 2013 version a little more than I did the first time viewing it, but I still stick with the Redford one as my favorite. But if seeing the new one gets even one person interested in reading the novel, I guess it has succeeded in my mind….even despite the fact that a Lana del Rey song plays during a movie set in the 20s…………….
Overall, though, the movies can never, ever do the novel absolutely justice.