Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Victorian Swag Guide to Gatsby

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Show of hands: who LOVES The Great Gatsby?  Let me rephrase:  who was forced to read it in their sophomore English class and secretly kept the school copy because they couldn't bear to part with it? Just me?  Didn't think so.

Just in case my fellow flapper fanatics haven't heard (or haven't seen the photos steadily trickling from the set), a brand new Baz Luhrmann-directed film version is set to be released this December.  I am beyond excited! Leonardo DiCaprio has some big shoes to fill in the lead role.  Robert Redford is not an easy act to follow.  However, pair Leo with Carey Mulligan as Daisy and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway and - short of a complete plot rewrite - I'm pretty sure they can't mess this up.  In order to prepare us all for this fantastic film adaptation, I give you "The Victorian Swag Guide to Gatsby."

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The Story 
It's the summer of 1922 on Long Island.  Midwesterner Nick Carraway moves to West Egg (not to be confused with East Egg) and befriends his next door neighbor, the enigmatic and mysterious Jay Gatsby.  Gatsby, devilishly handsome and extremely wealthy, is restless and bored with his nouveau riche lifestyle.  It turns out Gatsby isn't bored, he's in love (OBSESSED) with Daisy Buchanan, a beautiful girl he met before fighting in World War I.  Daisy, flighty and materialistic, married the equally wealthy and incredibly brutish Tom Buchanan while Gatsby was away at war.  BITCH you were supposed to wait for him!.  When Gatsby returned, he went to any means necessary to amass a fortune in order to win her back.  Lo and behold, the summer of '22 finds them living across the harbor from one another, sharing moonlit glances and secret strolls through gardens and Daisy's closet (SCANDALOUS!).  Sweet, right?  NOT!  This would all be well and good except for the tiny fact that Daisy is married to Tom who also happens to have a mistress - Myrtle - who is also married to a very possessive gentleman.  Confused yet?  Needless to say, the shenanigans carried out by this group of exceedingly irresponsible adults lead to large quantities of pain and suffering for all parties.  Full of brooding gentlemen, shallow mistresses, and poor life decisions, you'll sigh, scream, and sob at this book, guaranteed.  

Who's Who
Jay Gatsby (Robert Redford 1974, Leonardo Dicaprio 2012)
"The truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself." The Great Gatsby, F.S.F.  Disgusted by poverty and insignificance, Jay Gatsby literally springs from nothing to make himself the perfect man.  And he does it all for a girl.  A bit pathetic - and this comes through in his character at times - but it's a gesture of love no less.  Jay Gatsby is definitely fictional boyfriend material (if you ignore the last chapter or two of the book).  The mystery surrounding his fortune and his overall apathetic attitude toward most of it makes him seriously (if inexplicably) swoon-worthy.  He is ruggedly handsome and adorably insecure.  I hate the fact that he loves Daisy but I can't help loving him in spite of it. He may be a fraud, but I don't care!  I dare you to read the book and not come away with a crush.

It's going to be a real toss-up between Leo and Robert Redford for me.  I love the original movie and the emotion that Redford brought to the role, but I see great potential in Leo.  There may need to be a brooding competition to decide the winner.  

Nick Carraway (Sam Waterston 1974, Tobey Maguire 2012)
Narrator, excuse-maker, and Gatsby's biggest admirer/simultaneously biggest critic, Nick Carraway is rather annoying.  There was a potential bromance element at first, but with Gatsby hung up on Daisy and Carraway constantly confused as to whether or not he agrees with Gatsby's moralistically questionable choices, it's hard to like Carraway.  Either be his friend or just shut up and tell the story, Nick!  No one cares where you are from or why you are in New York; we want more Gatsby!  Not to mention the fact that Nick is also Daisy's cousin. This family is full of gems. 

Sorry Tobey, Sam Waterston wins.  I know you're not even playing a likable character, but I am pretty sure you will lose anyway.  
Daisy Buchanan (Mia Farrow 1974, Carey Mulligan 2012)
She's rich; she's beautiful.  She's got it all. Oh yeah, except for a personality.  Did I mention she is probably the most shallow, selfish character ever to be written into a book? She loved Gatsby.  When it was convenient.  Then she went on to the next best thing.  And when she realized her perfect Long-Island life - complete with jock husband and random toddler - is not so perfect, she wanted him back. And then she ruined everything. Daisy Buchanan needs to come with some sort of disclaimer. Seldom have I been so disgusted with a character. . . .  
And yet, I've got to admit that a part of me wouldn't mind being Daisy for a day, if only for the fabulous 20s wardrobe and impeccable bob. Oh, and then there's the fact that for some reason (which no high school English teacher has been able to adequately explain) she is the object of Gatsby's obsession and desire.  I wouldn't mind trading places with her for that. 

My only fear about the new film is that I will end up liking Daisy (NEVER!).  Mia Farrow was pretty easy to hate, but who hates Carey Mulligan?  Can she even play shallow, selfish Daisy? I am so conflicted! 

Tom Buchanan (Bruce Dern 1974, Joel Edgerton 2012)
Daisy's horrible shallow husband who also has a hand in ruining everything.  Tom is rich and handsome and blah blah blah.  He is also an abusive cheater and he is NOT Jay Gatsby. Period.  

No real opinion on this one.  Tom Buchanan is a simple character with simple motivations. Edgerton shouldn't have too much trouble with it.  

Myrtle Wilson (Karen Black 1974, Isla Fisher 2012)
Tom Buchanan's trashy lover and therefore fellow life-ruiner, she gets caught up in the tangle of poor decisions made by the main characters and meets an unenviable fate. STAY OUT OF THE STREET CRAZY! IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT!  YOU CAUSE THE FALLING ACTION!

I am kind of excited to see Isla Fisher in this role.  While I blame Myrtle for the beginning of the end, I always felt kind of bad for her and I think Isla will be both unlikable and pitiable.  

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Super Scientific, Completely Unemotional Analysis of Why You NEED to Love this Story (or at least read the book)
This book gives me a lot of FEELINGS. I get so angry at Daisy and Tom and Myrtle - not to mention the sheer inevitability of Gatsby's downfall - that sometimes I just have to reach for my martini. Grab your flask, you'll need it for this book and movie, trust me. On the other hand, Gatsby is so handsome and vulnerable that I can't be angry; I just want to comfort him by the side of his luxury pool. He has that irresistible bad-boy mystery quality going on; I can't resist. Gatsby! I want to be the object of your obsessive affections! Why did F. Scott create such an unattainable character?? On second thought, perhaps it's a good thing that Gatsby doesn't really exist. I struggle with this, though.

I know it's not exactly a happy story. In fact, it's mostly about disappointment, regret, and tragedy. Yet, I can't help but love it. I don't necessarily envy any of the characters but at the same time, I want to be a part of their world, even if just for an evening at one of their roaring 20s parties. F. Scott Fitzgerald creates a world so ridiculously opulent that I wouldn't mind slipping in and setting up house on West Egg (or East for that matter).  The setting lures you into the story but it's the characters that get you hooked.  

They are the people you love to hate.  Daisy needs a wake up call and a sense of propriety. Nick Carraway needs a backbone and a new suit. And Jay Gatsby, well, despite the fact that he is a liar, a cheat, and completely infatuated with an idiot, he just needs a hug. He's rich and powerful and very mysterious, but deep down, he is just an insecure boy who doesn't know how to let go of the past and move on. I hate Daisy for disappointing him (please read above disclaimer) and at times I hate him for loving her (I'm sorry Gatsby; I could never stay mad at you!). Surprisingly, despite chapters full of incriminating evidence, I can never bring myself to blame Gatsby for the events that unfold. I am pretty sure Fitzgerald did this on purpose.  He created the Great Gatsby and in the reader's mind, even after everything is said and done, Gatsby can do no wrong. Which makes the end of the story even WORSE.  And brings up more FEELINGS. Oh the INJUSTICE! Why is Gatsby the one who is punished for everyone's mistakes?? Ok, ok, I know why but just let me lament!

The book is pretty much an emotionally draining experience in the best way possible.  Past desires struggle to usurp present realities while the characters press on into an obvious tragedy.  It doesn't get any better than this!

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." F.S.F. 

Bonus Points
1.  Coolest. Cover. Ever. Hands down the best illustration I have ever seen on a book jacket.  
2.  F. Scott Fitzgerald penned it. And he was a genius. An alcoholic expat with writer's block? Sure. But that didn't stop him from crafting an exquisite tale of pain, despair, and envy. Oh, and he wrote it while living in Paris. Bonus points x2
3.  Baz Luhrmann is directing! Picture Moulin Rouge and Australia but set in the 1920s.  AMAZING!
4.  All of the sadness and pain are sure to lend themselves nicely to many scenes of a darkly brooding Leo. Bring on the brood!


  1. "I just want to comfort him by the side of his luxury pool." Ugh! True facts! I can't resist Gatsby either. What is it with me and SERIOUSLY flawed characters? But... it's that dark & mysterious/broody factor, I tell you!

    "On second thought, perhaps it's a good thing that Gatsby doesn't really exist. I struggle with this, though." Haha- I struggle with this too. AS ALWAYS WITH FICTIONAL CHARACTERS.

    I l-o-v-e this book to pieces! But *gasp* have yet to see the film with Robert Redford... which makes NO sense because I LOVE Robert Redford something terrible. So I must change that soon. But Leo was TOTALLY who I was picturing when I read the book. Can NOT wait!!!

    1. Wonderful post Ali!! I love it. I have to admit, I did not walk away from Mrs. Thomas's engligh class a Gatsby lover. But I think I may have to pick it up again. I love the character breakdowns, and I cannot wait to see the movie!

  2. The new version of the movie is destined to be utterly brilliant because it's got Leo and, of course, Carey. Can we just please live in the 20s. Gorgeous clothes and hair and the houses! Le sigh. I heart Gatsby.