F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” is widely recognized as a literary masterwork. Yet as even the book’s editor, Maxwell Perkins, said to Fitzgerald about a draft of the 1925 novel, the title character “is somewhat vague.”
Hazy doesn’t work in cinema, so when director Baz Luhrmann decided to bring “Gatsby” to the screen, he and his creative team went on the filmmaking equivalent of an anthropological dig. The goal: unearth what was left unsaid in Fitzgerald’s slender tale of Jay Gatsby, a millionaire bootlegger, and his unrequited love for a married socialite, Daisy Buchanan.
The film, opening May 10, overflows with all the touches you’d expect from the director of “Moulin Rouge!” — elaborate production and costume design, modern music in a period setting, theatrical acting — while hitting the seminal scenes and lines in Fitzgerald’s classic.
But Luhrmann recognized the danger of missing “Gatsby’s” emotional forest for all of the novel’s expositional trees. So he, co-screenwriter Craig Pearce and a cast headed by Leonardo DiCaprio (who plays Gatsby), Carey Mulligan (Daisy) and Tobey Maguire (narrator Nick Carraway) looked for clues wherever they could be found — and then came to their own storytelling conclusions.
Luhrmann delved into Fitzgerald’s life, letters and other writings, ultimately relying heavily on “Trimalchio” — an early draft of “Gatsby” — and biographies of his wife, Zelda, whom the novelist described as the first American flapper. One of Daisy’s lines comes from a note the novelist sent to his early love, Ginevra King.
“I have one duty — to the best of my ability to captain the storytelling team, and to tell and reveal the story,” said the 50-year-old Luhrmann, who followed his Oscar-nominated “Moulin Rouge!” with the critical and commercial disappointment “Australia.” “I set out to reveal ‘The Great Gatsby,’ but I also set out to do a movie of it.”