Thursday, May 23, 2013

Money Honey: What happened to Daisy Buchanan on the way from Fitzgerald to Luhrmann?

Though I riskily admitted to being a dilettante in yesterday's post, I'm not going to go all-out and comment on areas I'm not well-versed in. I have too much respect for the accumulated knowledge and insight of (to mention only local examples) Chris Lloyd, Ed Johnson-Ott and Matthew Socey to set up as a movie critic.

This post about "The Great Gatsby" is justified mainly as a follow-up to May 7's "Cashing in on a 'voice full of money': The promise of Luhrmann's 'Gatsby.'" Having seen the film just last night, I came away disappointed that the line in the novel that intrigued me — Gatsby's description of Daisy Buchanan, "Her voice is full of money" — is not among the many of Fitzgerald's words quoted in the movie.

The angle from which I came at the May 7 post was my interest in how adaptations of novels work with the raw material on stage or screen. Particularly when one major character says something about another, how does the adapter use that? In this case, the disappointing answer is: Not at all, unless you read really deeply into Carey Mulligan's Southern-belle portrayal as Daisy.

I think I know why neither Gatsby's revealing interpretation of his beloved's enduring charm nor narrator Nick Carroway's revelatory gloss on that remark makes it into the movie: Luhrmann's take on Daisy is too wrapped up in Gatsby's fantasy about her. Not until the end are we allowed to absorb how corrupting Daisy's background and its values are to her character.  Some other famous words about Daisy and her husband Tom — Nick's description of the couple's carelessness and destructiveness — do make it into the screenplay, but they stick out without much context.

The beautiful thing about Gatsby's concise, poetic description of Daisy is that it is so open-ended from a moral point of view. Is it in praise or criticism of her?  In Fitzgerald, it is both. Gatsby loves Daisy in part because she represents the life of seemingly effortless wealth he covets. Everyone in the novel, including Nick Carroway, is in love with money. A beautiful woman who seems to have a voice "full of money" is thus inherently desirable. But to the degree such a voice is surfeited with money and what it can buy, there's not much room for anything else. And the part of Gatsby's character that demands something more is thus destined to go unfulfilled.

That's why the omission of that line (and Nick's reflection upon it) seems a serious flaw in Luhrmann's often poignant spectacle.

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