Again on the Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is lurid, shallow, glamorous, trashy, tasteless, seductive, sentimental, aloof, and artificial. It’s an excellent adaptation, in other words, of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s melodramatic American classic. Luhrmann, as expected, has turned “Gatsby” into a theme-park ride. But he’s done it in exactly the right way. He hasn’t tried to make the novel more respectable, intellectual, or realistic. Instead, he’s taken “The Great Gatsby” very seriously just as it is. ...

Gatsby isn’t like other great American books. It’s not a social novel, like “Sister Carrie,” or a novel of manners, like “The House of Mirth,” or a novel about our national destiny, like “American Pastoral.” “Gatsby” is weirder than all those books; it’s more like Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio.” It’s about a spiritual atmosphere, and about the inner life that gives rise to that atmosphere. It’s popular because we still live in that atmosphere today. Fitzgerald’s novel is cool, sexy, stylized, and abstract; there’s a dreamlike falseness, a hollowness, an unreality to it, and that apparent superficiality is part of what makes it fascinating. It’s modernist and European without being arty. The best moments in the novel have the devious, carnal sophistication of high fashion; the characters seem unreal, but are also unforgettable. And, for all its strangeness, it also possesses a glamorous, crowd-pleasing commercialism. newyorker.

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