While Gatsby’s famous bashes are even more excessive in Luhrmann’s imagination than in the novel, with fireworks choreographed to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” the director said he labored to keep the story intimate and immersive.
He filmed several sequences in long takes, as if “The Great Gatsby” were live theater, and shot it in 3-D; the stereoscopic technology, Luhrmann said, heightens the film’s emotions, moving the audience from spectators to participants. “It was our poetic glue,” the director said of 3-D.
The director briefly needed his own adhesive to keep the project from falling apart. Worried about its budget, Sony Pictures backed out (the film was ultimately co-produced by Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow), and numerous production delays, some tied to weather, postponed the film’s release from last fall to May.
Luhrmann began to consider adapting the novel after listening to it as a recorded book while traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway after finishing 2001’s “Moulin Rouge!” But it took a while to figure out how to translate it into a cinematic language that preserved Fitzgerald’s voice.
His answer, and one of the film’s most notable departures from the novel, is revealed as soon as the movie starts. Traumatized by all he has witnessed, Nick is convalescing in a sanitarium. A doctor prescribes that he write about what happened in West and East Egg, the respective New York homes of Gatsby and Daisy, and Nick’s recollections become the movie’s framing device.
That hurdle behind him, Luhrmann and his team turned their attention to the film’s supporting characters: Daisy’s husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton); Tom’s mistress, Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher); Myrtle’s husband, George (Jason Clarke); and Daisy’s friend and accomplished golfer Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki). The task, as DiCaprio said, was tying to sort out “the choose-your-own interpretation of who these people are.” “What makes ‘Gatsby’ the book that it is,” the actor said, “is that people still have conversations about it.”