‘The Great Gatsby’ Casting Not So Great

Jackie Jerkins

Jackie Jerkins, Literary Editor

There is a reason beloved twentieth century masterpiece The Catcher in the Rye was never (and will never be) made into a film—author J. D. Salinger realized the dangers moving pictures posed to his magnum opus.

When a literary architect like Salinger steps up to the plate, words are simply inimitable. The skimming, censoring likes of movies are poison to the masterful technique and thankless thought process that goes into wrapping each brilliant concept into a neat little parcel with nouns, adjectives, and so forth. Salinger was hip to this all-pervading hazard and jumped through several legal hoops to prohibit—under any circumstances, and despite decades of pleading and groveling from many major studios—The Catcher in the Rye from ever becoming a feature film.

Thus, Holden Caulfield is safe, but others, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby, are in the direct line of fire.

Alas, The Great Gatsby as a film adaptation began shooting in September of this year. In a fitting parallel to the “end of the world,” it is scheduled for release in 2012.

All kidding aside, the very notion of subjecting The Great Gatsby to being a 2012 movie is no picnic for yours truly.

This is not Gatsby’s first time at the rodeo, and Warner Brothers Studios is beating a horse that is not only dead but has long since rotted into the earth. Fitzgerald’s work of genius has been through the meat grinder (that is, it has been made into a film) six times, not including Baz Luhrmann’s unimpressive 2012 prospect: in 1926, in 1949, in 1974, in 2000, and in 2007.

Now, I am not opposed to The Great Gatsby being a film on the whole—au contraire! Like in a game of throwing darts, I would be curious to see which director’s vision and interpretation finally nails a bull’s eye. Unfortunately, Luhrmann has already proved himself to be a mere five-pointer.

The problem I have here is with the cast. Let us examine the evidence: Carey Mulligan will play Daisy Buchanan, Tobey Maguire will play Nick Carraway, Isla Fischer will play Myrtle Wilson, and Leonardo DiCaprio will take the wheel of Jay Gatsby’s extravagant coupé.

Where is the issue? you might be asking yourself. Why, this is a fine, strapping young fleet of actors. Where on Earth is the problem?

Let me begin by emphasizing the masterpiece quality of this novel. This is no ordinary patient—this is a king you are operating on, Doctor.

Behind James Joyce’s Ulysses, critics are unanimous in naming The Great Gatsby as the greatest novel of the twentieth century. Any professor, author, poet, librarian, or vagabond on the street will tell you the same: This is a king among kings.

Now, this is not to say that Leo DiCap & Co. are incompetent actors—quite the opposite. Carey Mulligan is fit for royalty, and I suppose Isla Fischer is not as horrific as she could be, all circumstances considered. (To be fair, my familiarity with her work is limited to Wedding Daze, Hot Rod, and Confessions of a Shopaholic, the last of which I couldn’t bring myself to sit through to see the ending.) As for Tobey Maguire, well, Tobey Maguire will always and forever be Spiderman to me.

Leo DiCaprio is quite a different case. I believe he has great talents, but, like any good thing, these talents are limited. As of late, he even seems to be “Oscar baiting,” which is of course film buff slang for playing dramatic parts in films (i.e. involving lots of crying, inconsolable sobbing and/or gasping, screaming, shouting) in order to ensure an Academy Award nomination. This is therefore a plausible situation, seeing as Leo has yet to win an Oscar (a frustrating fact to his devout disciples).

In Gatsby lies his ticket—or perhaps he thinks.

I’m just going to be frank. I do not think Leo is at all capable of playing the character of Jay Gatsby. I do not think that Tobey Maguire is at all capable of playing Nick Carraway, and I do not think that Carey Mulligan is at all capable of playing Daisy Buchanan. Isla Fischer… Well, I suppose it’s obvious at this point.

At one point in the novel, the character of Gatsby murmurs to Nick something about Daisy’s voice being “full of money.” Nick ripples with epiphany. He finally realizes what lies at the crux of Daisy Buchanan: money. In a fluorescent climactic comment on the disillusionment of the materialism of the 1920s, Fitzgerald imparts to us the true purpose of Daisy as a symbol. She is money—she is possession and superficiality. This is a role that, unfortunately, I cannot possibly see Carey Mulligan pulling off. She has more than proved herself a solid, convincing actress, and has time and again impressed me with her insight into her roles, but the role of Daisy is quite different. At least, it’s different to me. Daisy is the fulcrum on which Gatsby pivots—she must follow the course of beguiling ambiguity into madness and disaster just as Fitzgerald intended. This is a role I am sorry to say that even Meryl Streep would struggle with. It is not enough to see the world through a materialistic early century woman’s eyes—to be Daisy is to move the entire story. As I’m sure Fitzgerald knew, to be Daisy is to move the earth.

I recently read a wonderful article on NPR.com (having been referred to it by Mr. Zucker) about the importance of watching movies that you know nothing about, starring actors you know nothing about—meaning, we are too familiar with certain actors and directors. We are told by movie trailers and previous knowledge of actors how to respond to a film before it is ever released. As I stated before, Tobey Maguire (who, as I humorously read on an anonymous film blog, “suddenly has a career again, apparently?”) will forever inspire thoughts of Spiderman. How can I—how can anyone—possibly shake that image off as he tries to be the narrating character in The Great Gatsby? For anyone who has read The Great Gatsby, it is quite obvious that Nick is a nobody. He cannot be anyone but a nobody. He is the mirror and the window through which we see and interpret the other characters. Thus, for an ideal interpretation, he must be transparent. Fitzgerald never describes Nick to us, even though Nick is in fact the narrator. We cannot be distracted by Nick being a solid personality—the face of Spiderman, no less. Nick, if portrayed in film, therefore must be a face unfamiliar to us.

Speaking of faces, Gatsby cannot be portrayed at all. He does not have a face—he cannot have a face. Fitzgerald loosely illustrates Gatsby to us, but even so, Gatsby is shapeless, formless. He is an amorphous entity and he exists as a presence, an idea. If Gatsby were ever to have a face, his would be the fizz of champagne—a big party—a fast car—the click click click of the Charleston—the smell of a fine suit.

For me, Gatsby and the others are notions and theories, and I think this was precisely Fitzgerald’s objective. Just as Daisy was but a dream to Gatsby, the true identities of the characters will continue to float listlessly in the pool of a mansion somewhere in West Egg.