For some, Robert Redford is the
personification of the American Dream: blond, handsome, tall he looks simply
gorgous. But is he really the right choice for Fitzgeralds Great Gatsby? Jay Gatsby
(formerly James Gats) is not such a clear-cut character:
His parents were siftless,
unsuccesful farmpeople his imagination never really accepted them as his parents at
all... He was a son of God a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that
and he must be about His Fathers business, the service of a vast, vulgar and
meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old
boy would be likely to invent, and to this conceptioin he remained faithful to the end
(.F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, p.95)
His controversial past, however, does not become apparent in
the film. On the contrary. Our first vision of the Great Gatsby is him, standing at the
edge of his balcony high above us: a gentleman of the upper class. In the book, by
contrast, Nick does not even reckognize the host at the party in the " elegant young
roughneck...whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd" (p.49).
The film also fails to convey the symbolic quality of the Great
Gatsby. It is the essence of the American Dream whose tragedy Gatsby is enacting. He is a
mythic, a tragic character: imprisoned in the present, he belongs much more to the past or
to a future which never really existed but in his dreams. His death is a symbolic one. It
is the consequence of his insecure grasp of social and human values, his lack of critical
intelligence and above all his radical failure to recognize the cheapness and vulgarity of
his love-affair with Daisy Buchanan.
Gatsby and Daisy
In the film, the relationship between Daisy and Gatsby is celebrated
like a romantic love-story whose happy end is prevented by "cruel Fortuna",
tragic circumstances and fatal misunderstandings.
In the book, however, it is clearly class boundaries which separate
them. In contrast to Daisy, who is born into the upper class, Jay Gatsby does not have a
comfortable family standing behind him. Disregarding this fact, he has, ever since he saw
her, created a vision of her in his mind which, after five years, Daisy literally tumbles
short of "not through own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his
illusion. It had gone beyond her...beyond everyting. ..No amount of freshness and vitality
can challenge what a man can store up in his ghostly heart." ( p.93)
Gatsby fails to admit to himself that Daisy has become a creature of
the Jazz Age, "a precious piece of furniture" who has nothing to offer in a
human relationship. And for this failure the Great Gatsby pays with his death.
The book is undoubtedly one of the severest and closest criticisms of
the American Dream. It was written by an author who was fully immersed in the consumer
society of his age but who at the same time could step outside it and criticise its
superficiality, its snobbishness and its decadence.