Great Gatsby: Book vs Movie

The Great Gatsby, an American classic and one of Fitzgerald’s most outstanding works, tells a tangled story of love, lies, liquor and wealth in the 1920s. The narrator, Nick Carraway, moves from the west to Long Island, New York; West Egg to be more specific. There he meets the eccentric and exceedingly wealthy Jay Gatsby and becomes immersed in his struggles to rekindle his love with Daisy Buchanan, a married woman and Nick’s cousin. Since the book was published in 1925, numerous filmmakers have tried their hand at bringing Fitzgerald’s novel to the screen, generally without much success in accurately portraying the essence of the book. The 1974 film however, directed by Jack Clayton and starring Robert Redford, Mia Farrow and Sam Waterston, has come the closest to capturing what Fitzgerald put forth in his novel. Although it is quite accurate in content, verbiage, and mood; there are a number of differences that change the feeling of the story. Watching the film and reading the novel are two different experiences when you look closely. Bringing the novel to the screen with success and accuracy means staying true to parts of the story and changing others, the inclusion of the books verbiage, including all significant characters such as Dan Cody, keeping scenes true to the novel and tweaking scenes in order to capture moods portrayed in the novel.

The main similarity between the book and the movie was the accuracy of lines. While watching the film, you can recognize many similar lines that are taken directly from the book. For example, the climax within the story is when Tom realizes that Daisy is in love with Gatsby. This distinct realization is marked by Daisy saying to Gatsby “You always look so cool” (p. 125). The same scene ensues in the movie, and Daisy says the same line “You always look so cool.” In the movie it is more clear that this is the moment Tom realizes Daisy is in love with Gatsby whereas in the book it is less apparent. Near the end of the story, Nick says to Gatsby “They’re a rotten crowd, you’re worth the whole bunch put together.” (p. 162) This line is the same, word for word in the movie as well. In the movie it is less apparent that Nick still disapproves of Gatsby, in the book Nick goes on to state his true feelings for Gatsby despite the compliment he has just given. Even though some of the emotions portrayed in the book are not captured in the film, the consistent use of lines directly from the book help to capture the story with more accuracy.

However similar the movie was to the book there were some significant differences both good and bad. Dan Cody’s character was completely omitted from the film, and although I don’t know why, I believe that piece of information was a significant factor in fully understanding who Gatsby was and how he came to be the man he is within the story. Dan Cody is a self made millionaire who has a significant relationship with Gatsby, his role in Gatsby’s life holds importance. He is like a father figure, teaching him crucial skills so that one day he could become successful as well; which he did. Another difference was that of Nick’s reunion with Tom, his old college friend, and Daisy his cousin. In the book Nick drives from his home in West Egg to East Egg where Tom and Daisy live, there he meets Tom at the front door. “And so it happened that on a warm windy evening I drove over….” (p. 10-11). In the film the opening scene is Nick in a small boat making his way across the bay between West and East Egg against soft cotton candy skies with music playing in the background. Once at the dock, he meets Tom who comes riding over on his horse dressed in Polo attire. Although this does not dramatically change the viewer’s perception of the story, it is still a significant change. Another change from the novel comes at a very crucial point in the story; the reunion between Gatsby and Daisy. In the book it is raining when they meet in the living room of Nick’s humble home; “The rain cooled about half past three to a damp mist through which occasional thin drops swam like dew” (p. 89). In the film, although it is not completely contrasting weather to the book, it is not raining. Some of the differences between the novel and the film were significant, such as the omission of Dan Cody’s character, and some are less so, such as the change in the opening scene. However change is not always bad, and there are quite valid reasons as to why a director may change certain aspects so as to better fit them to the screen.

Disparities between a novel and a film can change an audience’s perception of characters, themes and the plot in general, however it is also important to change some things within a story to make it more suitable to the audience watching the film. Film creators must rely heavily on visual representation while writers must rely on correct and skilfull use of verbiage. For example the scene in which Nick goes to Tom and Daisy’s house is rather boring in the book; Nick simply drives there. In the movie, the scene was that of Nick boating over as cotton candy skies reflected off the water. This visual representation created an aesthetically pleasing scene that was fluid and transitional in such a way that is needed in the beginning of a film. In the movie, to have Tom come riding up to the shore on his horse was an effective way to communicate character traits within Tom. The book could describe it, but the movie needed to show it. The omission of Dan Cody, although I don’t necessarily agree with it, is understandable. By leaving out Cody’s character, the filmmakers created and maintained an air of mystery around how Gatsby actually acquired his wealth. Furthermore, because Cody’s character was not crucial to the love story between Gatsby and Daisy, it was acceptable to leave him out because that’s what the audience cares about. The change in weather during Gatsby and Daisy’s meeting was completely acceptable. In the book, Fitzgerald used the description of weather to help accentuate the feelings of sadness, nervousness and loss between Gatsby and Daisy. Films in general have the capacity to depict emotion visually and don’t need extra descriptions and factors. The rain isn’t needed because you can see exactly how Gatsby is feeling through Robert Redford’s acting.

When catering to an audience viewing a film, the director must rely on visual representation. If the visuals aren’t prime, the audience won’t appreciate it as much. This is especially true for modern day viewers. The way readers receive a novel is through literary styles, vocabulary, sentence structure and adjective use. Choice of words and descriptions matter so much more in books than in movies. The movie in general is quite accurate to the book in terms of content, verbiage and mood although there are number of differences; Dan Cody, the opening scene and Gatsby and Daisy’s reunion. When watching a movie after having read the book, recognizing similar scenes and lines from the book makes you feel as if you are truly watching the book and not a different adaptation of the story. Accuracy of plot, content and mood are crucial in successfully bringing a piece of literature to the screen; for the most part I believe Jack Clayton did well. When you’re trying to accurately depict a novel on screen, it’s important to keep the basics and capture the essence of what the author of the book was originally trying to portray. Keeping important scenes that work as major turning points in the original novel are important to include in film adaptations. Although Fitzgerald most likely would not appreciate most of the changes, this 1974 adaptation is the best there is and most likely the best there ever will be.