Baz Luhrman’s Great Gatsby: Chapter 2 Problems

What to watch & what to skip

If you’re like me, you cringe a little inside whenever Chapter 2 of Baz Luhrman’s 2013 The Great Gatsby begins. Thankfully, (or regretfully?) it happens only fourteen minutes in from 14:27-22:50, so you can get it over with and proceed with the movie that overwhelmingly every student looks forward to watching.

But here’s the deal: Chapter 2 is tricky.

Luhrman’s creative vision for Chapter 2 was over the top. To put it simply, you may want to avoid the awkwardness and potential controversy that the approximately eight minutes presents.

In fact, Luhrman’s Chapter 2 should probably be rated R since it pushes the PG-13 boundary so strongly.

After all, Chapter 2 contains:

  • strong innuendo (Mr. McKee’s “artistic game” leaves few doubts that he photographs erotica.)
  • questionable comments (Tom: “Nick, I know you like to watch.”)
  • drug use (Catherine’s nerve pills)
  • seemingly unlimited alcohol

It’s a Jazz Age Festival of Bacchanalia that is almost startling in its intensity; therefore, it might be crossing the line for your students and school environment.

Sure, if they’ve read the book, students know there’s a party in Tom and Myrtle’s apartment in Chapter 2, but Luhrman leaves nothing to the imagination with what is depicted in those scenes from 14:27 to 22:50. In fact, since students aren’t expecting Luhrman’s filmed version to heighten the action in the chapter to such an extreme degree, it can take them aback, so you may feel like skipping it altogether.

However, if you skip all of Chapter 2, you do miss these all-important moments from the first three minutes:

  • introduction of the Valley of Ashes
  • introduction of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg
  • the first appearance of George and Myrtle Wilson
  • a couple foreshadowing shots of Michaelis
  • the furtive conversation between Tom and Myrtle about heading to town

Yes, the opening three minutes of Chapter 2 are helpful, but the rest of the chapter contains some questionable moments that you may wish to avoid.

Use this post to decide what to skip and what to show your students.

Here is the Chapter 2 play-by-play:

  • 14:27: The first three minutes include, as stated above, the Valley of Ashes, T.J. Eckleburg, Wilson’s Garage, Nick meeting Myrtle and George, Tom arranging the party in town,
  • 17:16: As Myrtle’s new dog eats from a china plate, sexual activity between Tom and Myrtle escalates in the bedroom while Nick awkwardly tries not to hear.
  • 17:50 Catherine arrives at the door asking, “Ain’t we havin’ a party?”
  • 17:57: The McKees arrive followed by greetings all around. Myrtle emerges from the bedroom followed by Tom adjusting his suspenders
  • 18:33: Tom goads Nick to stay by urging, “Listen, Nick, I know you like to watch.”
  • 19:11: Catherine asks Nick, “Do you live on Long Island, too?” She then builds mystery around Gatsby by asking Nick if he’s ever heard of a man by the name of “Gatsbys” who she describes as “a cousin of Kaiser Wilhelms.”
  • 19:25: Tom shouts to McKee to “Take a picture of that!” and swats Myrtle’s backside.
  • 19:37: Glancing to Myrtle and Tom, Catherine tells Nick, “Neither of them can stand the person they’re married to.” Nick then asks, “Doesn’t she like Wilson either?” Myrtle’s reply, described by Fitzgerald as “violent and obscene” is heard offscreen when Myrtle says, “He’s a dirty little scumbag.”
  • 19:50: Catherine slips Nick a “nerve pill” as she kisses him seductively.
  • 20:00: Catherine helps Nick wash down the pill with an alcoholic drink, and it’s at this point that the party takes off for the next minute and a half. Champagne sprays around the apartment, pillow stuffing falls through the air, and McKee photographs the whole drunken gang splayed across the couch. Catherine removes Nick’s dress shirt, and soon nearly everyone is clad only in their under clothes, dancing, writhing on coffee tables, and partaking in what Nick calls a “chemical madness.” We see Nick drinking from a large pedestal bowl and a fizzing bottle. We see Catherine dressed in skimpy lingerie, kissing Nick’s chest, and rolling with him on Tom and Myrtle’s bed.
  • 21:35: Nick walks over to a window, and looks down on the city. In voiceover, we hear him paraphrase, “High over the city our yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrets. The casual watcher in the street. And I was him too looking up and wondering. I was within and without, enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” Nick then returns to the party where the McKees sleep on chairs and couches.
  • 22:29: From the bedroom, Tom tells Myrtle she has no right to say Daisy’s name. Myrtle repeats, “Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!”
  • 22:34: Tom violently strikes Myrtle. The action is shown in slow-motion.
  • 22:40: Nick climbs out the window onto the fire escape and the camera pans out as we see Mrs. McKee and Catherine tending to Myrtle. The camera speeds away from the building, eventually encompassing a sparkling nighttime panoramic view of the city, punctuated by construction workers straddling iron beams and striking at metal, sending sparks flying.
  • 22:50 Chapter 2 officially ends with Nick waking up on his front porch the next morning.
The Great Gatsby
Enter Gatsby in my search bar at the bottom of this post for a slew of posts all about teaching The Great Gatsby.

Here’s what Common Sense Media has to say about Luhrman’s version of The Great Gatsby:

Parents need to know that director Baz Luhrmann‘s (Moulin Rouge) take on The Great Gatsby is a decadent, dizzying version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel. The movie is true to the book, featuring scenes with lots of drinking — often to excess — and smoking. There’s not too much swearing (though some soundtrack song lyrics include infrequent use of “s–t” and “f–k”), but expect some violence (a man punches another, a car hits a woman head-on, and a character shoots another) and sexuality. Couples — including people married to others — are shown kissing and in bed (bare shoulders). Leonardo DiCaprioTobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan star; that, plus the movie’s hip soundtrack and lush style, are likely to make it very appealing to teens.

common sense media

Despite this warning, Chapter 2 contains a good portion of the explicit questionable content in the film. It’s the main chapter to be wary of.

Marilyn Yung

I hope this post helps you plan for showing The Great Gatsby by Baz Luhrman as part of your Gatsby unit. This movie is a student favorite and I wouldn’t want your students to miss out on this exciting film. Use this post to select what to show and what not to show. You know your students better than anyone.

Leave a comment below or on my Contact Page to throw in your two cents on this post. How do you approach Chapter 2 of Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby?

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Published by Marilyn Yung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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