“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books like An Imperial Affliction, which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like betrayal.” -John Green, The Fault in our Stars
So. This is a topic that I feel will appear in quite a few posts on this blog and it’s a topic I’ve had a hard time getting in to because my mind is a jumble of words when it comes to it. The topic:
(what Gatsby? Har har har… literary humor har har) The Great Gatsby is my favorite book. Of all time and eternity. The word favorite doesn’t even really encompass the way I feel about this book. It doesn’t feel special enough to call this book a favorite book. It doesn’t feel… sacred, like this book is to me.
The above John Green quote, however, sums it all up quite nicely. I feel both ways about Gatsby. I feel as though you will never understand how my brain works until you’ve read this book. That part of my soul lives and breathes on those pages. But I also feel as though nobody can understand this book like I do. That Jay Gatsby is mine and nobody understand how he feels and I don’t want people reading a book about him and misunderstanding him. This book is my lifeblood, it’s my greatest passion, it’s the thing I love the most on this Earth. This is the book I read 6-7 times a year, a book permanently stationed on my night stand. When I wake up in the middle of the night and I need something to comfort me, or I can’t settle on a new book to read, Gatsby is always there waiting for me.
This was a book I never talked about as being a favorite. I’d rattle off my list of favorite books when asked: Looking for Alaska, The Book Thief, Perks of Being a Wallflower, etc. Never Gatsby. Gatsby was a private book since the first time I read it when I was 16. It was a private obsession that flowered in my mind only in the dark of night when I would read through my favorite passages on my own. It was mine. I never even talked much about it with people I dated or loved for fear that after ending relationships with them, my book would become tainted by them. I kept it pure.
Then my friends and I began a book club and selected Gatsby as our February read. I was excited to talk about this book with people I respected and loved. People who I knew would respect my near obsession with this book. For the first time I was finally able to vocalize and ponder WHY this book had taken over my thoughts and why Jay Gatsby became the secret specter of my mind, a vision who made his home in my head. I read it closely and wrote endless pages about what this book and man were to me. Something snapped in me then, a hidden spark burst into wildfire. This secret affair with this book became too large and too important to remain hidden.
I feel as though I understand Gatsby. I have his same obsession with the past, the same thirst to keep that one beautiful moment that has managed to define our lives pure and golden. We have an inexhaustible gift of nostalgia and hope for ourselves and our lives. I connect with him and the words on these pages. I started developing too many thoughts about this book to keep them all to myself. It became bigger than me, a romantic vision that kept me awake most nights thinking of Gatsby. We both stayed awake in the dark reaching for a green light. He was mine.
A few weeks back, I went to visit a dear friend who teaches at Davis High school. We got talking about Gatsby, as any conversation eventually leads. I got emotional as I was talking about it, as I normally do. He was very taken by my response to the book and invited me to come teach a few of his classes about the book. I was so excited. I went home and wrote up a whole bunch of thoughts about the book and prepared my lecture. He told me I’d have a half hour to fill and after the first lesson, it became apparent that that was not enough time. I think I spent about 45 minutes talking about the book with the last class. I could have kept going. I could always keep going.
Then it came time to see the movie. I was incredibly nervous to see this movie, but I knew that nothing could live up to the vision of this book I had stored in my ghostly heart (reference to the book anyone?…eh…?) Leo DiCaprio is the perfect Gatsby, I adore Carey Mulligan, Tobey McGuire made me nervous but he had an awkward energy that Nick always had. I love Moulin Rouge and the energy that film has, an energy I believe Gatsby has. I was so excited.
I saw this movie for the first time Thursday night at 11 with a dear friend, Shelby. We both sat anxious and excited, waiting with baited breath. It began… and I couldn’t handle it. It was perfect. It was unreal how much this film matched what I had in my head.
My biggest fear for this movie was that it would be too grand, too loud, too focused on the partying. The trailer made it seem draped in excess and the soundtrack talked a lot about wealth and party. I was nervous because it needs to be understood that Gatsby is not a party novel. Jay Gatsby isn’t concerned with his wealth, he’s concerned with his golden girl. But the movie did an incredible job with the parties. Through all of his parties you got the sense of the thrill, but never lost sight of the true meaning behind them and the fallacy of the parties. Just like Jay Gatsby, the glitz of the parties cannot hide the pain of his life. The movie remained centered on the man even through the parties.
|His eyes. “His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.”|
In summation of the movie I’ll quote Jordan Baker. “Anyhow, he gives large parties and I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.” That’s what the movie felt like. It was cerebral and very internal. A grand affair that remained focused on the intimacy and acute sense of life Gatsby had.
This movie felt as though it was made for me. There are sentences and moment in the novel that I have always felt to be the most important and beautiful that I had never head talked about. They hadn’t appeared in either of the two film versions I had seen previously. But Baz Lurhmann picked up on them like I did. He made them so central in the film just as they were in my brain. The theme of Nick seeing himself as inward and outward was something that never felt central to the films. It was here. Gatsby too, like Nick, was inward and outward of his own life, half living in his dreams.
The attention to detail was incredible. From the clothing being spot on to how the book described it to little mannerisms of Gatsby tapping his foot restlessly on the car ride into the city. It was palpable how much Baz adores this book and how much he adores Gatsby. It was a very Gatsby-centric movie. The added dialogue Gatsby had to bring more understanding to his obsession with Daisy’s singular love was beautiful.
The scene that broke my heart was when Jay and Nick are talking by the pool after the party Daisy and Tom attend. He’s worried about the fact that Daisy didn’t like it. This scene in the book is incredibly powerful but this scene in the movie… the added thoughts Gatsby spoke… it was like watching my mind on the screen. Gatsby vocalized thoughts I’ve had about this book since I first read it that had never been spoken before. Gatsby says something along the lines of, “It’s so sad. It’s so sad because Daisy doesn’t understand. I’ve gotten all these things for her but I can’t make her understand. I need her to tell Tom she never loved him.” Lurhmann gets Gatsby. He gets his pain and struggle. He understands like I do that it is NEVER too much to ask for singular love. I could die talking about how perfectly Lurhmann understood the character.
|Look at the pain in his eyes. Unreal.|
But even more than Lurhmann understanding it, Leonardo DiCaprio understands Jay Gatsby. There are moments in that movie that wouldn’t be possible if he was just a good actor. Yes. He is incredibly talented and he disappears into this role. But there is also an energy that Leo gives. He understands Gatsby. There are things he does for this role that go beyond talent, go beyond acting. He was living and breathing this role. Every time he talks about Daisy, he has a ring of tears in his eyes.
|His eyes, though.|
He gave Gatsby the vulnerability that has been missing in EVERY film version I have seen. He made this enigma become the realest character in the book and on the screen. He became easier to understand. He stepped out from behind his Gatsby smile and became the hurt man he truly is. I was left breathless by this performance. It’s a performance that I feel will never be topped for me. He was Gatsby. He always was.
Nick, Tom, Daisy, Myrtle… they were all perfect. They all acted as I’ve seen these characters for years. This movie was the soul of this novel. The focus was on Gatsby and his belief in the Green Light, not on the American Dream. I’ve never seen this novel as focused on the American Dream. There is for sure a level of commentary in there, but not nearly as much as is constantly placed on it. This is a novel of nostalgia and past, remembrance and regret. It’s a novel about Gatsby. Fitzgerald played with calling this book The American Dream, but it’s not about that at all. It’s about Gatsby and the vision he had of himself in his heart. This film was Baz Lurhmann’s heart and soul, and it was mine too.
I would apologize for the length of this post but even this feels short to me. I have an enormous amount of words for this book and this barely scratches the surface. Thank you to those who stuck through and read the entire thing. I feel like this is the most important post I could ever write. It was cathartic to write it and to finally let people maybe understand why this book is so vital in my life. Sure, it’s an extreme love, but when I love I love like Jay Gatsby. I love with my entire being, I love forever, I love with a force that controls my life and changes my destiny. In the words of Gatsby, I felt myself falling in love with this book “and I just let myself go.”
Thank you for reading. And an eternal thank you to Fitzgerald for his velvet words and his ghostly Gatsby, the sweeping story that will enchant my life and my mind for an eternity.