Great works of literature are usually attempted to be adapted to the movie screens, as they are a wonderful source for a captivating plot, and the 1925 novel The Great Gatsby written by F. Scott Fitzgerald is not an exception. The novel is widely recognized as one of the best novels not only of its time, but also of the 20th century. No wonder that there are at least 5 known film adaptations of the work, but two of them, namely The Great Gatsby of 1974 shot by Jack Clayton and The Great Gatsby of 2013 by Baz Luhrmann are the most widely discussed and compared versions. The reason why these particular two movies have gained so much public attention is their active promotion before the release and the resources that were used in them, both financial and human ones. While Baz Lurhmann is well-known for the magnitude, magnificence and beauty of his films, Clayton, in turn, has invited an incredibly famous movie star Robert Redford and very talented Mia Farrow, Mia Farrow, Bruce Dern and Sam Waterston, as well as created beautifully stylized costumes that altogether made the movie very famous and critically acclaimed.
The first noticeable difference between the two movies is the way their respective casts portrayed the main characters. Robert Redford and Leonardo DiCaprio, who played Jay Gatsby, understood the character differently and, thus, took different directions. While Redford’s Gatsby lacks depths and a range of emotions, and is shown as calm and quiet man without many feelings on the surface, Gatsby by DiCaprio is, to the contrary, full of emotions that he constantly reveals to the viewer. The same can be said about Daisy by Farrow and Mulligan. Daisy is a character that is hard to portray due to the lack of elaborate description in the novel, so both actresses had to invent her based on her actions and dialogues. And while Farrow’s Daisy turned out to be nervous and jumpy, she lacked lightheadedness and child-like behavior. At the same time, Mulligan perfectly caught the essence of Daisy, who turned out to be a sad child inside a body of a grown-up woman, who had to take responsibility for her actions. Her attractiveness to men lies in her naïve character and frivolous behavior, which Mulligan reflected precisely. The biggest criticism of the earlier movie in comparison with the latest one is the chemistry between the main characters. In the Clayton version it seems to be simply almost absent, as the two actors fail to show love, passion and longing for each other, but rather look as two people, who have nothing in common, but somehow turned out to be in one room with each other. On the contrast, Daisy and Jay of the 2013 version show passion and love, and the viewer is made to believe that there is a history between them and an unresolved issue that hovers above them. Another character that greatly differs in the movies is Nick Carraway. In 1974 movie Nick is more of an observer and narrator of the story, who rarely makes own judgments of the situations, while Nick of Tobey Maguire is visibly affected by the course of events, and these changes in him are presented at the very beginning of the movie, as he is shown telling the story to his psychiatrist after becoming depressed and anxious.
Another big difference between the movies is their atmospheres. The 1974 movie is very contrasting with the Lurhmann’s pompous version. While the earlier movie may seem more realistic, in fact it lacks the exaggeration that is needed to convey the meaning behind all the partying happening in Jay’s mansion. What Fitzgerald wanted to show is how meaningless and superficial was the communication during the party Jazz Age, and the bigger the celebrations were, the deeper were the personal problems and turmoil dug. In this regard, the Clayton’s movie was too calm and close to the reality of the 1920s and the parties the people of that decade were capable to organize. Meanwhile, the 2013 movie makes the non-stop celebration one of the central themes of the story, and Lurhmann uses exaggeration to help the viewer feel the sadness and anxiety of people by showing them the immensely contrasting party evenings. Clayton’s version has won two Academy Awards for Best Costumes and Best Music. The 2013 version did not win the Awards for music, as there are many critics, who condemned the use of modern hits produced mainly by Jay-Z and adapted to the sound of Jazz Music of 1920s, as the use of this music makes the movie even less realistic. But at the same time, there are many appreciators of this move by Luhrmann, who managed to make The Great Gatsby relevant to the rising generations, who might otherwise not appreciate the story because of the lack of understanding of the realities of those times.
The two movies are very different, but at the same time each of the versions is worth watching, as they provide different views on the story. Those people, who appreciate the older more classic Hollywood movies, will surely find the Clayton’s film very appealing and deep, while those people, who want to dive into the heated emotions highlighted by music and great visual effects, will like Lurhmann’s film better. Despite the differences in portrayal of the characters and interpretation of the story, they both share one common theme based on the ingenious work that deserves attention and appreciations.
The Great Gatsby. Perf. Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Bruce Dern, Sam Waterston, Karen Black. Paramount Pictures, 1974. Film.
The Great Gatsby. Perf. Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2013. Film.