Interestingly, The Great Gatsby didn't set the world on fire when published in 1925, even though Fitzgerald was already a hot commodity. It didn't take off until the military printed up lots of free paperback copies during WWII. So, even though I've more admired than loved TGG the two or three times I've read it, I appreciate that guys doing a lot harder job than me were knocked out by it in the 1940s.
At the end, after the "boats against the current" closing line, we fade to a montage of the sailor, with his well-thumbed copy of the paperback in his back pocket walking down the gangplank into post-war California, going to college on the GI Bill, becoming a high school English teacher, and then assigning his students The Great Gatsby until he retires in 1990. In 2013, his teenage great-grandchildren invite him to Baz Luhrmann's extravant movie version, which, not surprisingly, gives him a fatal stroke. But just before he dies, he smiles at how much kids these days like his favorite book.
Luhrmann is an adventuresome populist by intention. He invented a new style, peaking in Moulin Rouge, to please mass audiences. As I wrote in 2008:
Luhrmann worked out a novel set of conventions for his Red Curtain style, the maximalist opposite of Lars Von Trier's more celebrated but less successful Dogme 95 minimalism. Like Bollywood musicals intended to be understood by peasant audiences, the Red Curtain rules stressed blatantly unrealistic theatrical artifice; plots that are time-tested, if not downright hackneyed (in “Moulin Rouge,” we quickly infer from La Traviata and La Bohème that the beautiful courtesan must ultimately die of consumption in the young poet’s arms); and shameless melodrama, all as “a device to disarm oh-so-clever, oh-so-cool people, so that you can have these very direct emotional experiences,” as Luhrmann explained in 2001.
Luhrmann punches up Gatsby's party scenes, which are absolutely central to the story's appeal, to make an impact in hard-partying 2013. I find his occasional use of hip-hop works quite well -- the parties start with appropriate 1920s Dixieland music then gradually work their way up to Jay-Z's hip-hop score.
And, Luhrmann does a good job of simplifying Fitzgerald's story down to its core -- Gatsby's doomed love for Daisy -- so that it will be readily comprehensible to a generation of C students needing to get up to speed on what the assigned book is about without actually reading it. The one thing Luhrmann is stumped by is how to coherently relate Fitzgeralds' strange plot devices needed to get the right people into the wrong cars on the disastrous road trip to the Plaza Hotel.
In showing us exactly what the story is about, Luhrmann dispenses with some of Fitzgerald's vagueness and abstraction that entranced future movie critics in high school.
By the way, it's a commonplace these days to read The Great Gatsby ethnically. (Luhrmann emphasizes this less than most contemporary interpreters.)
Everybody today expresses gleeful hatred toward the (rather poorly) delineated polo playing bad guy Tom Buchanan, a predecessor for Billy Zane's Anglo-villain in Titanic. Early on, Tom endorses the book The Rise of the Colored Empires by a cross between Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard. (That sailor 17 years later heading toward a showdown with the Japanese Empire at Midway probably wouldn't snigger as much as moderns do at the phrase "rise of the colored empires.")
On the other hand, Fitzgerald's obvious aversion toward Jews and blacks gets overlooked or explained away. There is a whole cottage industry constructing theories about how the beloved Gatsby is really Jewish, black, and/or gay.
Interestingly, Fitzgerald seemed to agree with Tom Buchanan, at least in the early 1920s. (Fitzgerald espoused various ideologies over the years, becoming, for example, a Marxist during the Depression, so one shouldn't take any of them too seriously.) In 1921, he wrote to Edmund Wilson from Europe:
Raise the bar of immigration and permit only Scandinavians, Teutons, Anglo-Saxons and Celts to enter. ... I believe at last in the white man's burden. We are as far above the modern Frenchman as he is above the Negro. ... You may have spoken in jest about New York as the capital of culture but in 25 years it will be just as London is now. Culture follows money ...
I haven't studied up on Fitzgerald that much, so I'll just speculate on his ethnic attitudes from the novel. My hunch is that as a wealthy, extremely assimilated Midwestern Irish Catholic Ivy Leaguer, he resented the inner-innermost circle of American life: rich Eastern polo-playing WASPs like Tom Buchanan.
In turn, as a young man of the second circle, Fitzgerald looked down upon the third and fourth circles. Judging from the ghastly Meyer Wolfsheim gangster character in The Great Gatsby, the man who ruined the innocence of little American boys by fixing the 1919 World Series ("Say it ain't so, Joe!"), Fitzgerald was anti-Semitic. (Luhrmann cast a Bollywood star as Wolfsheim to deflect accusations of anti-Semitism, although it just makes the character look even less American.)
Toward blacks, Fitzgerald was, at best, bemused. Nick Carraway observes:
As we crossed Blackwell's Island a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry.
"Anything can happen now that we've slid over this bridge," I thought; "anything at all ...
(Luhrmann has Tobey Maguire as Carraway respond warmly to this vignette, without any trace of the book's distaste for blacks rising above their station.)
Instead, Fitzgerald rooted for the second circle in American life: Midwestern WASPs like narrator Nick Carraway, Germans like Great Plains small town boy James Gatz, lace curtain Irish like Fitzgerald himself, and so forth. Basically, he liked the limited number of ethnicities he would allow to immigrate to the U.S.: "only Scandinavians, Teutons, Anglo-Saxons and Celts," to quote Fitzgerald.