Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Great Gatsby Movie: Help or Hindrance?

Is this what you imagined the characters looked like?
Let me put my cards on the table straight away Leaving Cert. class of 2013: DON'T WATCH IT! This is not a film review ( I haven't even seen it yet!). It opens in Irish cinemas this weekend. I advised my sixth year class today not to watch. Not because I hate Leonardo DiCaprio, which I don't. Not because I can only hear Carey Mulligan's English accent every time she tries to feign an American one. And not because Tobey Maguire is generally annoying in movies, no comment.  I asked them not to watch it as it's not on the Leaving Cert. course this year. The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald is. Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby is not.

Pupils using details from the movie in a Leaving Cert. essay is the ultimate fear for a teacher. I'm not going to patronise the vast vast majority of Leaving Cert. pupils. They just wouldn't do that. I've already heard Luhrmann discuss in interviews why he didn't have a Gatsby funeral scene. There was a cartoon expulsion of coffee from my mouth when I heard there was no funeral scene initially.
No funeral!? Owl Eyes, Nick and Gatsby's dad will
 be even more heart broken!
So I listened to the rest of the interview and although I didn't agree with the director's choice I certainly understood it. The idea that an under prepared pupil might go see the movie and then criticise Fitzgerald in an essay for not giving Gatsby a good send off (those that have read the novel know he doesn't really get a decent one anyway) is an idea that would genuinely give me sleepless nights.

Although that is the worst case scenario, this is not the reason pupils should not go see the movie. The reason you shouldn't see the movie is that these are Luhrmann's interpretations of the characters, not yours. I read the novel in college and in my mind's eye Gatsby is not Leonardo DiCaprio. Daisy is not Carey Mulligan and Tom Buchanan is certainly not Joel Edgerton. You've invested time and effort to learn about these characters. They should feel like people you know. Why? Well because if you know the characters (KNOW the characters as I bark to my pupils) it will give your Leaving Cert essay a vitality and honesty of effort that will make it rise above the rest. Yes question key words, PCLM and language range are all important but passion is quite often the x-factor between your essay being good and it being great. Seeing a movie adaptation of a literary work can irretrievably damage your love of a certain character. 

So if you genuinely feel like you can seperate the movie and the novel just weeks before the Leaving Cert., go for it. I'm sure the movie is great. I just strongly feel you are denying yourself of a possible strength your essay could and should have: your imagination. Until the exams are over you can console yourself with the fantastic soundtrack that accompanies the movie. I've taken, for me, the stand out song from the album Florence + The Machine's emotive Over the Love and created some revision questions to accompany it. Scant consolation I know but trust me, it'll be worth it!

Music Video Revision Questions

Q.1 Florence + The Machine make many literary referecnes to the novel in the song's lyrics. Choose two that you think are particularly effective in capturing the emotions of the novel. (10 Marks)
Q.2 'Now there's green light in my eyes'. The song's story is told from the perspective of Daisy. Would Daisy have made a better narrator than Nick? (10 Marks)
Q.3 'Cause you're a hard soul to save, with an ocean in the way' What do you think Florence + The Machine (speaking from Daisy's perspective) mean by this? (10 Marks)
Q.4 The song is called 'Over the Love'. 'The Great Gatsby is just a typical love story' Do you agree or disagree with this question? (10 Marks)