The narration is explained in Baz Luhrman’s version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic. Nick Carraway is in a psychiatric ward, undergoing treatment for severe alcoholism, depression, fits of rage, sleeplessness among others. Nick is haunted by New York, but unable to speak about the ghosts that torment him. His doctor’s recommendation is to write about it, about anything that helps him. It begins with a place – the ash heap.
The movie blasts through the book in the vehicle of eye candy; dispensing lines of Nick’s journal with a much faster pace than they deserve. Much of his observations are spoken through characters and much is paraphrased or completely changed as the audience steps into Nick’s memories of Gatsby’s extraordinary parties, fast living on the east coast with rocketing stocks and the extravagant nonchalance of the wealthy.
It isn’t until Gatsby and Daisy finally meet that the movie seems to take the pace of the book and the spectacle on the screen finally takes is proper place as merely the setting and not something to offer apologetically for the patience of the audience to endure a movie driven almost entirely by dialogue.
The movie would be better served to leave the narration without an explanation, especially one that writes words across the screen, as though proof of its fawning over the original text, which speaks well enough and through an interesting character in his own right. Fitzgerald’s work, it seemed to me, had been offered to us in an explanatory tone and therefore was done a disservice.
It seems the pacing is meant to parallel Gatsby’s own pursuit of his first love; rocketing into fortune, into fame, and then as the object of his desire grew nearer, the story winds down more slowly, stopping just short of his attaining her.
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
The advice Luhrmann’s Carraway received from his father is far more generic: to always look for the good in people. And from that moment on, in all its pomp, Luhrmann misses Fitzgerald’s point.