May 15

“Gatsby” and Its Therapized Narrator Nick Carroway

The newest movie adaptation of classic novel The Great Gatsbyby director Baz Luhrmann and screenwriting partner Craig Pearce, has received decidedly mixed reviews. At least in part, some of the more unfavorable press stems from its unique presentation.

According to John Horn, Los Angeles Times, the following basics of the plot remain true to Fitzgerald’s story of that summer of 1922: “Bootlegger turned millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) is desperate to reconnect with former flame Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), who is married to a philandering, polo-playing blue blood, Tom (Joel Edgerton).”

One of the interesting twists in this movie, though, is that the narrator, Nick Carroway (Tobey Maguire), Gatsby’s neighbor and a former college classmate of Tom’s, is now institutionalized in the “Perkins Sanatorium.” While getting help for “morbid alcoholism” as well as other issues, Nick is telling his Gatsby-focused story not to us but to his shrink, who’s played by Jack Thompson.

The preview below gives viewers a sense of the overall feel of the film, which is available in 3-D:

Maguire’s role as Nick isn’t actually garnering much attention, at least of the positive kind. Two of the most comprehensive reviews I’ve seen of his portrayal—and the script behind it—also happen to be among the worst:

Joe MorgensternWall Street Journal: “This dreadful film even derogates the artistry of Fitzgerald, who wrote ‘The Great Gatsby’ while living on Long Island and in Europe. In a deviation from the book that amounts to a calumny against literary history, Nick, the author’s surrogate, is discovered in a psychiatric hospital where, as an aging alcoholic, he struggles to comprehend the vanished figure at the center of the long-ago story, and finally completes his treatment by writing the novel. It’s literature as therapy, and Gatsby as Rosebud.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer:

As the new Gatsby, Leonardo DiCaprio is hopeless, a little boy in his first After Six tuxedo. Worse still, he is no longer the centerpiece of the story, a task that falls into the incapable hands of the incompetent, miscast Tobey Maguire as Jay Gatsby’s friend, neighbor and all-seeing matchmaker and Daisy’s cousin, Nick Carraway. He might suffice as a callow Spider-Man, but as the film’s narrator, saying campy things like ‘They were careless, Tom and Daisy … they smash people and then retreat back into their vast world of money and carelessness …’ Even with these masterful lines from the book, he just sounds like he’s reading from a college yearbook. Mr. Maguire is supposed to be the camera through which the tragedy unfolds, but he is light years away from possessing the range, craftsmanship and experience required to play a Fitzgerald hero.