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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

question of the day: Are you worried about the new ‘Great Gatsby’ movie?

Hampton Stevens in The Atlantic is worried about the new Great Gatsby movie Baz Luhrmann is mounting — the big news this week is that Carey Mulligan was cast as Daisy Buchanan, joining Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire — and frets that everyone else is worried, too:

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.

It’s true that there’s always reason to worry when any beloved book is adapted to film, and perhaps even more so when no previous attempt at a particular novel has succeeded. But perhaps this a corollary to the QOTD earlier this week about “giving movie a chance”: at this point, with a great cast in place and a director who’s shown he can translate emotion into images, is it worth reserving judgment… at least until we start seeing terrible trailers. Or should some novels simply be written off as unfilmmable?

Are you worried about the new ‘Great Gatsby’ movie?

For the record, I’m willing, at this stage, to give Luhrmann the benefit of the doubt and keep my fingers crossed.

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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