The Great Gatsby is a beautifully crafted story about glamorous people who do ugly things.
As far as we can tell, this timeless novel of the Jazz Age has been adapted to the big (and small) screen at least five times*.
Even if you haven’t read it, you’re familiar with the story: A wealthy, mysterious man named Jay Gatsby pursues a married woman, with whom he once had a romance, which results in Tragedy. It’s the great American novel of money and unrequited love, with language so lyrical it nearly sings.
Therein lies the problem when adapting it to the screen: How do you preserve the poetry and imagery of the novel?
For all its faults, we feel the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby nicely captures the mystic beauty of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story. It’s a strange, exquisite movie with breathtaking cinematography, and a script by Francis Ford Coppola that leans heavily on the novel.
In a film like this, with characters obsessed with ambition and passion, you need actors who portray their characters with ruthless honesty.
The person who does this best, we think, is Mia Farrow, who stars as Daisy, the object of Gatsby’s desire.
Before we look at Farrow’s performance, we must examine her wardrobe, because it offers clues to her character’s State of Mind.
There is always something that sparkles about Farrow-as-Daisy. For example, when we first meet her in the film, she’s dressed in a brilliant white gown sprinkled with crystal sequins. If her clothing isn’t glittery enough, her jewellery makes up the deficit – a not-so-subtle reminder of her wealth.
(Digression: There are many scenes where the key light is reflected in actors’ eyes. It’s best not to focus on this while watching the film, because the whole thing will collapse into a drinking game.)
Secondly, Daisy’s clothes are always soft and billowy. No tailored suits for our gal; nothing but ethereal, wispy silks, thank you ever so.
She dresses to Deflect. Your eye is caught by the sparkle of diamonds, or the flutter of her sleeve. Her wardrobe does not draw attention to her as a Real Person; it is designed to distract.
Farrow’s interpretation of this character, in our mind, is brilliant. She gives us a woman who works a little too hard at hiding behind couture.
Farrow’s Daisy is never photographed in a harsh light, and she’s stunning in every scene. Yet she furiously digs out unpleasantness like a gardener roots out weeds. She wrestles Real Life with money, flurries of activity, and faux charm. (“I always love to see you at my table!”)
She’s chipper and witty, quick to dole out meaningless flirtations and flattery. Life must be lived at surface level.
The truth is, Daisy is miserable and not a little weird. When Gatsby (Robert Redford) gives her a tour of his mansion, he reveals his collection of dress shirts by carelessly throwing them into the air and letting them tumble to the floor. Daisy clasps one of them as she sobs, “I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts before!”
This is Daisy’s life’s work: Whenever Life gets too personal, she bursts into Tears Of Defeat, but her recovery strategy is swift. She escapes by running towards the Next Fun Thing.
One of Farrow’s most remarkable moments is when she sees Gatsby after an absence of several years. It’s as though she’s seen a ghost. She can’t believe it, it’s too good to be true, what’s to be done now. This is one of the few times she lets her true emotions surface, no artifice, no pretense. This is the real Daisy.
Even though she seems flighty, she knows exactly what she’s doing. Here is a woman who will always preserve her way of life, despite the consequences to others.
In a film of tragic figures, Farrow’s Daisy pretends to be unaffected. She simply buys her way out of misfortune. After all, she has the jewellery and wardrobe to prove it.
*The Great Gatsby film adaptations to date: 1926 (lost film), 1949, 1974, 2000 (for television), 2013.
This post is part of The MAGNIFICENT MIA FARROW Blogathon, hosted by Pale Writer.
The Great Gatsby: starring Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Bruce Dern. Directed by Jack Clayton. Written by Francis Ford Coppola. Paramount Pictures, 1974, Color, 144 mins.