The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

My first encounter with Gatsby – a story in three acts

with 50 comments


Act 1: A tough decision
Until last week I was still a Gatsby virgin. Somehow it had escaped me for 45 years, a white and embarrassing blind spot in my education. I knew it was considered one of the greatest American classics, but I had only a vague idea about what it was about. Something about rich people in the 1920s. Possibly some parties. That was the level of my knowledge.

When the recent movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby arrived I suddenly needed to make a choice. I knew that I was about to lose my Gatsby virginity. The question was how and where. Did I want our first meeting to take place in a theatre or on a book page?

I kept wrestling with the question for a while. It was a tough call. My previous experience with movie adaptations of beloved novels was that you usually end up preferring the format you first encounter. Somehow it imprints you.

If you watch the movie before reading the book, the images from the movie will pop up in your head as you’re reading the text. And the other way round: if you read the book first, you’ll compare every image in the movie with the ones that you’ve created in your mind, which you’ll regard as the “original”, the film being but a pale copy.

To see or not to see? I just couldn’t make up my mind, so I did what you do in case of doubt: I asked Twitter. Not that it made me any wiser. Twitter rarely does. There was no consensus. Half of the replies urged me to read the book first, half argued for the opposite.

In the end I decided to leave the novel alone until I had seen the movie. The tipping point was that I figured I might bring a somewhat different perspective, since many bloggers probably have read it, if nothing else as mandatory reading in high school. Perhaps my fresh eyes and lack of expectations would turn out to be useful. And if the novel was anywhere near as good as it was claimed to be, it shouldn’t have any issue with coming second.

Act 2: The moviegatsby2
So how shall I best describe my experience with The Great Gatsby movie? I’m fumbling for words, dumbfounded by all the visual, musical and emotional impressions. Here’s what pops up in my mind right now as I’m thinking of it:

Shirts swirling through the air

Snowflakes swirling in the sky

Words and letters swirling over the screen, beautiful lines, read aloud from the book

Dancers swirling over the floor

(That’s a lot of swirling, but this is a movie that swirls.)


So much sadness, despite all the seemingly happy faces on the screen

Leonardo DiCaprio shifting between being shy, awkward and super romantic within a couple of minutes, surrounded by a cascade of flowers

Toby Maguire being adorable

Joel Edgerton being creepy

Carey Mulligan tipping over from sweetness to being plain horrible. God, I hate her! No, not her, the character… Got to keep them apart!

The unmatched loneliness of big scale parties and “friends” that are no more than acquaintances

A yellow car roaring through the night, a pair of glasses watching

Old sport, old sport, old sport, hitting me like a whip. One or two are barely noticed. After the 500rd stroke I’m bleeding.

Music. Oh, the music! Bold and out of control. Leaving me speechless

Was THAT shot from Sunset Boulevard?

The green light on the other side of the bay. Unreachable, untouchable and making me want to cry, as it’s burning a hole into my mind while fading away, leaving nothing but emptiness.  Life isn’t easy. Life isn’t fair. Rich or poor, this is what it is. Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Shirts swirling through the air

Act 3: A heart-breaking realization
I took up reading The Great Gatsby the very next morning and it didn’t take many pages before I had reevaluated myself completely as a writer. It sang to me, every sentence like a perfect piece of art, concentrated and full of flavour, like the sauce you get in ridiculously expensive restaurants. You look in disbelief at the tiny spots of it on your plate, as if someone has spilled it out, wondering if this is all there is. And then you taste it and it’s so intense that you immediately realize that you don’t need any more; there’s enough of it to leave you completely satisfied.

How had I ever come up with the idea to enter a writing profession? Who did I think I was? Looking at the quality of my writing compared to the one of Scott Fitzgerald, I was nothing, just someone scribbling mindlessly. At last my eyes had opened to the sad truth, that I was a second rate writer. The realization weighted heavily on my shoulders. Now I knew what a real writer who knew what he was doing could accomplish. So what was the point for me to write at all?

Once again I shared my despair on Twitter and a friend sent me some words of sympathy. For my recovery she recommended me to read some truly bad books. And I think she’s onto something there. Aren’t they a much better source of inspiration for writing than the good ones? Unlike The Great Gatsby, they invite you to think highly of yourself:  “I could do that! I would even make it better!”

And besides, in the end the purpose of writing isn’t necessarily to excel in it. Some of us write just because we…ehm… kind of enjoy it. As much as we hate it from time to time, we can’t be without it. So we keep doing it, even if we’re no Fitzgeraldses.

The beginning of a relationship
In conclusion this isn’t the last I’ll see of Gatsby. Our relationship has barely started. From now on, this will be a book that I’ll return to so I once again can see the performing act of the equivalence of Mozart, words replacing the violins.

For this I thank Baz Luhrmann. God knows how many more years I would have waited to read the book if it wasn’t for the beautiful, sparkling and loving (and actually surprisingly faithful) introduction he made with his movie.

The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann, 2013) My rating: 4/5


Some of my colleagues in the Swedish movie blogger network Filmspanarna also watched The Great Gatsby. Here’s what they made of it.

Fiffis filmtajm (Swedish)
Fredrik on film (English)
Fripps filmrevyer (Swedish)
Har du inte sett den? (Swedish)
Jojjenito (Swedish)
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord (Swedish)

Written by Jessica

May 22, 2013 at 8:00 am

Posted in The Great Gatsby

50 Responses

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  1. […] The Velvet Café Fredrik on Film (välkommen! ) Fripps filmrevyer Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord Fiffis filmtajm Moving Landscapes Har du inte sett den? (podcast) […]

  2. […] laget förhoppningsvis välkända. Vad tyckte de andra? Fiffis filmtajm Jojjenito Fripps filmrevyer The Velvet Café Har du inte sett den? Fredrik on […]

  3. […] den här gången. Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord, Fripps filmrevyer, Jojjenito, Fredrik on film, The Velvet Café, Har du inte sett den och Moving […]


    May 22, 2013 at 8:01 am

  4. […] tyckte det andra filmspanarna? Fiffis filmtajm Fredrik on film Fripps filmrevyer The Velvet Café […]

  5. This is a little unfair. The film was made in Sydney and it hasn’t even been shown here yet. And still you have already been able to see it in Sweden. You always comment on the late releases in Sweden. How come you were lucky this time? At least I managed to see an interview with Baz Luhrmann on TV yesterday and the Sydney papers write about the film almost every day.

    Science Guru

    May 22, 2013 at 8:19 am

    • It seems to have become a little bit better recently, at least in the case of the big productions. We even got the latest Star Trek movie and Iron Man 3 a week before US! What’s going on? Not that I complain! 🙂

      Strange though that it hasn’t opened in Australia yet. From IMDb I get that it half and half an Australian movie, so you’d think they’d be quicker. New Zealand always get the Lord of the Rings premiers before the resst of the world…


      May 22, 2013 at 9:22 am

  6. I guess Baz did as good a job as he could giving life to this book. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s prose has a subtlety and eloquence that didn’t really translate to the screen. It looked good, but the story failed to engage my emotions.

    Glad you found it extraordinary at least. Nice review!

    Mark Hobin

    May 22, 2013 at 8:36 am

    • Thanks! It’s definitely surface over substance, but I was dazzled enough to enjoy it. I think my emotions weren’t fully engaged until the last line that the narrator says to Gatsby, straight from the book. That hurt.

      The film was enjoyable. The book is extraordinary.


      May 22, 2013 at 9:23 am

  7. I´m glad to hear that the book didn´t disappoint you.
    One question: did you get to know Gatsby more in the book – as a person?


    May 22, 2013 at 9:07 am

    • Yeah, I would say so. Despite it’s humble size, it manages to convey a lot. Especially towards the end of the book there are a couple of scenes that brings more depth and knowledge about his background than the movie gives us.


      May 22, 2013 at 9:25 am

  8. Glad you liked the movie so much and that it led you to the lovely, lovely book. Even though I liked the movie as well, I do not agree with you on the flower scene in the cottage. To me, it felt forced, especially compared with the following scenes in Gatsby’s mansion.


    May 22, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    • It worked for me. That was one of the points where the book was a little bit different to the movie. There are flowers in the book, but it’s not as crazy as it gets in the movie. I actually loved that the film took a different road there, grabbing the chance to express something about Gatsby’s charactar in a very visual way.


      May 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm

  9. I got to say, if I’d seen the movie that you convey in your text I would have really liked it. But as it was now, I saw another movie.


    May 22, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    • I wrote my review after reading the book as well. Maybe my impression of the movie already is starting to get colour by it. But I remember being fairly enthusiastic even before reading it.
      In any case: I strongly recommend you to read it.


      May 22, 2013 at 4:15 pm

  10. Very nice write-up Jessica. I’m so glad you enjoyed both the movie and the book. I love the novel and I’m really glad I read it again right before going into the movie. But I usually say see the movie first. Like you said, many who read the novel first always talk about how the movie doesn’t live up to it. I like to see the movie first and then let the novel add to what I’ve seen.

    I think this film gets so much right. The tone, the underlying themes – so much works. I gave it a 4 as well.


    May 22, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    • Thank you Keith! I really enjoyed both. Now, if I was pressed two choose either, like for my only entertainment on a desert island, I would pick the book over the film. It’s just that extraordinary. But this doesn’t take away from the movie that it was really well done. I think it was a very god idea to match this particular director with his special style with this script. It married very well. Considering how many harsh reviews I’ve seen I was actually a bit surprised at how good I thought it was.


      May 22, 2013 at 8:02 pm

  11. Lovely post, Jess! Read the book recently and liked it a lot. Waiting for the film to open in a little more than a week over here.


    May 22, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    • Why, thank you Fernando! I hope you’ll love the movie as well. If nothing else I bet you’ll find it a feast for the eyes!


      May 22, 2013 at 9:02 pm

      • Yes, that is for sure. Waiting anxiously for it; it might be my most anticipated of the year even!


        May 22, 2013 at 9:04 pm

  12. I’m glad you liked this film. I know people were mixed about but I was one of those that enjoyed it. Yes, it had flaws but I was able to live with that. Plus, only Baz Luhrmann can create spectacles that always give you your money’s worth.


    May 22, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    • Yes! Another one who liked it! I think you gave it 4/5 too, if I’m not mistaken. I think Baz Luhrmann was a very good choice of director. The book is written in a way that makes it feel as if it’s filled of music and images. It translates very well into his style.


      May 22, 2013 at 9:19 pm

  13. Great piece. I was in exactly the same situation as you, torn as to read the book or not. Like you, I chose the film first and I’m glad I did. I thought the film was very good but I also started reading the novel the very next day (and have nearly finished it 24 hours later). I’ve never read such juicy prose. It feels like you need a shovel to lift the words from the page and I keep reading sentences over and over again. I also felt immediately poorer as a writer but have come to the conclusion that while the world needs its Beethovens and its Mozarts, it also needs its Jedwards and its Chris Browns.

    Also, I wouldn’t feel bad about having not read the novel until now. I don’t think it’s as much ‘a thing’ in Europe as it is in the states. I certainly never had it taught or was urged to read it at my English High School.

    At The Back

    May 22, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    • Thanks! We really seem to have had a similar experience both with the movie and with the novel. As you say, every sentence is packed, but at the same time, I can’t say that I had to struggle to enjoy it. I couldn’t let go of it and like you I finished it quickly. Now I’m sitting here sulking a bit that it’s already finished, but hey, I can always read it again. I know I will. Even though it will mean that I once again will be painfully reminded of my shortcomings as a writer.


      May 22, 2013 at 10:27 pm

  14. Nice write-up, jessica! I’m glad you enjoyed both the film and the novel!
    I’ve read the Great Gatsby, studied it… and read it again and again …it’s my favourite novel of all time, so I’m a bit nervous about watching the film – i desperately want to like it but I suspect that I won’t. I’ll keep an open mind though and report back!

    Gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson used to retype The Great Gatsby out on his type writer over and over again until he memorised it, and believe it or not, you can see similarities in his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas! Fitzgerald is just brilliant…you must read Tender is the Night next 🙂


    May 22, 2013 at 11:52 pm

    • Thank you Georgina! I hope you’ll be able to embrace the movie for what it is, even if you’ve got the novel tattooed into your heart.
      That was a lovely story about Hunter S Thompson! I had no idea about that. Maybe worth trying out for myself. As you say, it obviously works. 🙂
      Thank you for the reading tip. I really need to read more Fitzgerald.


      May 23, 2013 at 7:25 am

  15. Jessica! Please don’t despair about your writing! I can safely assure your writing skills remain as remarkable as ever. I mean, here are so many writers – myself included – fumbling about in an attempt to summarize this movie and I think your Act 2 breakdown encapsulates the experience of actually watching the movie in real time about as perfectly as possible.


    May 23, 2013 at 1:55 am

    • Thank you so much Nick! You’re too kind. I felt that the act two was a bit of a copout, but I couldn’t come up with any other way to convey the feeling of the movie, assuming that the story was familiar to many anyway.


      May 23, 2013 at 7:27 am

  16. Like Nick above, I must protest at your assessment of your writing abilities. You are not a second-rate writer. This very review proves that.


    May 23, 2013 at 2:08 am

    • Awww. I had no intention to fish for compliments as I wrote about my post-Fitzgerald syndrome. But I really appreciate your kind words. Thank you.


      May 23, 2013 at 7:30 am

  17. You’re certainly right about it being a great book. In fact, it’s one of my favorites. I enjoyed the movie too, but the book is just so wonderfully written. It’s funny, I thought the paragraph in which you got to talking about how great of a writer Fitzgerald was was superbly written.

    “Was THAT shot from Sunset Boulevard?” Exactly what I was thinking 🙂


    May 23, 2013 at 4:26 am

    • I’m all with you about this book. It’s a late discovery in life to me, but I’m certainly going to revisit it.
      And thank you for the compliment!


      May 23, 2013 at 7:33 am

  18. Excellent write-up Jessica. I haven’t read the book but I’m put off the film as I wasn’t a fan of the Robert Redford version. I found it dull, to say the least, but you’ve got me thinking on both Luhrmann’s film and Fitzgerald’s book.

    Mark Walker

    May 23, 2013 at 10:44 am

    • Thank you Mark! I haven’t seen the old version, so I can’t say how this plays out compared to it. But with all those dazzling visuals, I don’t think anyone can complain abuot it being boring. If nothing else I hope you’ll give the book a chance. It’s astonishingly well written.


      May 23, 2013 at 10:59 am

  19. I bet Fitzgerald can’t review the crap out of a movie like you do. I think your review was more poetic than the movie (maybe not saying much since i found the movie pretty boring).


    May 23, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    • I bet he can Johan. You really should read him. Now I sound as an expert, which I’m not; I’ve only read The Great Gatsby so far. But it was an experience that shook me up. Anyway: thank you for your kind words!


      May 23, 2013 at 7:58 pm

  20. Nice post. I can’t for my life see what you see in the movie. It was as hollow as a birthday party at McDonalds, bright colours and sparky cake but no soul. But you really make a grand pitch for the book. I now got an urge for reading it. Well done. 🙂


    May 23, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    • Thank you for your kind words! Of course I can’t guarantee you’re going to love the book, considering how much you hated the movie. You might be coloured by your first bad experience. But nevertheless I’m glad you’re giving it a try and hopeful that this will provide a deeper experience than the movie did.


      May 23, 2013 at 8:22 pm

      • Hate is a very strong word. I certainly do not hate the movie. It has done nothing to me. But I feel like I am in the story The Emperor’s New Clothes when people around me talk about the great love story at the heart of the movie. I’m like “But, but, wait a minute, that love story is not great at all…”

        However, I’m sure the book is great!


        May 23, 2013 at 9:07 pm

  21. Haven´t read the book but i´ll see the movie first. Mostly it´s better seeing the movie before reading the book – I rarly get dissapointed then.
    If i´ll see the movie at a theather or at dvd it´s another question. I do like Baz (except for Australia) but the craving for Star Trek is bigger.


    May 24, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    • Watch both! I was a little surprised at the mostly negative reactions to this film from the other Swedish bloggers. I thought it was a feast for the eye and the ear with some good acting performances as well. Recommended, especially on a big screen!


      May 24, 2013 at 11:31 pm

      • Mayby Ill do as my wife has expressed some desire to see this film – she doesn´t often go to the movies.


        May 24, 2013 at 11:44 pm

        • Sounds like an idea! Though there’s a lot of good stuff in the movies right now. If you have the chance to see Jakten, The Hunt, I think that is more not-to-be-missed than Star Trek or Gatsby.


          May 24, 2013 at 11:55 pm

  22. You like it a whole lot more than I did, I’m not a fan and thought it looked beautiful, but never felt a connection. Also bought the Robert Redford movie, which I’m also watching to see if I like that one more.


    May 27, 2013 at 10:25 am

    • Well we can’t agree on everything. I can understand why not everyone connects with it. For some reason I did. Moulin Rouge on the other hand… I haven’t even gotten through it. I keep falling asleep every time I try! Speaking of disconnect…


      May 27, 2013 at 9:57 pm

      • Have reviewed that today and I love that movie, so we are exactly opposite when it comes to these films 😉


        May 29, 2013 at 7:48 am

  23. I’ve just had a Gatsby weekend myself. I loved the movie, but I went in expecting to hate it, so low expectations may have helped. Then I read the book for a fourth time. I get what you mean. It sings. It’s poetic, and it makes you feel utterly worthless as a writer. The great thing about the book is the way it has new and deeper meaning on each read through. Here are my favorite passages if you’re interested:

    Jeff Peters

    May 27, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    • Hey there! Thank you for stopping by my little place and speaking up. It’s lovely to meet another Gatsby lover. I checked out your posts and you had picked some truly wonderful passages. But again: what is there NOT to love about the novel? The entire book is highly quote worthy!

      Btw I really loved your blog and your project to follow your dreams, daring to aim higher, not settling for an “okish” life. Your first priority right now seems just right. You can’t follow any dreams at all if you’re in a dangerously bad shape, right? Anyway it’s a very inspiring read for all of us and I subscribed for your blog in my dying, hopefully soon to be replaced, feed reader right away!


      May 27, 2013 at 9:56 pm

      • Cool! Thanks for checking it out. It was hard finding quotes, as I just wanted to put the whole dang book up. Always nice to find a fellow Gatsby lover. I keep reading all these “Gatsby is overrated” posts and have to come to the books defense. 🙂

        Jeff Peters

        May 27, 2013 at 10:01 pm

  24. […] The Great Gatsby I thank Baz Luhrmann. God knows how many more years I would have waited to read the book if it wasn’t for the beautiful, sparkling and loving (and actually surprisingly faithful) introduction he made with his movie. […]

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