Coppola shared unused scenes with Luhrmann and encouraged him to dig into Fitzgerald's other writings.
"He was the one who said to me: Go to other Fitzgerald texts and look for clues," says Luhrmann. "Because Francis encouraged me to do that, we came upon the idea of the sanatorium."
To solve the problem of narration and avoid beginning the film with that classic overturning of pages in a book, Luhrmann and Pearce placed Carraway in a sanatorium where a psychiatrist is helping him work through his alcoholism by writing.
The filmmakers drew this from both Fitzgerald's own booze-soaked life and his unfinished novel about Hollywood, "The Last Tycoon," for which he had planned a sanatorium scene.
"We spent a lot of time working out: What's the device that we're going to use to make that voice-over active?" says Pearce. "That kept us up a lot at night."
They also drew from Fitzgerald's earlier draft of the novel, "Trimalchio," which DiCaprio was especially devoted to.
"Everyone who reads this book has their own interpretations of these characters," says DiCaprio. "Part of what made Fitzgerald's writing so great is it's very voyeuristic. You feel like you're privy to conversations that you shouldn't be privy to. When you translate that to film, you have to be much more specific."
Of course, what most distinguishes Luhrmann's "Gatsby" from others is its razzle dazzle: Its effects-heavy assault of outlandish style and loud music. As the director says, "I carry a brand which has a whole lot of noise around it."
Though many critics have already taken issue with Luhrmann's stylistic flourishes in "The Great Gatsby," it's clear he's wrestled with finding a way to be faithful to the book and to Fitzgerald's prose.
During the narration, some of the famous phrases drift across the screen. Unlike the Redford version, no one will say Luhrmanns film lacks energy, but rather that it has too much of it. DiCaprio, too, is far better suited to the part than Ladd, (as are the other leads: Mulligan, Maguire and Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan).
But no matter how one attempts to tackle "Gatsby," it remains powerfully mysterious, resistant to intrusion. In setting out to adapt the book, John Collins, artistic director of the theater group Elevator Repair Service, hit upon a novel idea: Don't. The troupe's acclaimed nearly seven-hour production, "Gatz," focused on a man reading every word of the book.
"I felt like the novel was just a kind of perfect crystal and I got frustrated trying to figure out what parts to cut and what parts to leave in," says Collins. "The accomplishment was that Fitzgerald had written a novel where every word really seemed necessary. The writing, itself, dared you to keep every word of it because it was so well constructed."
Though Collins can understand why the spectacle of the story would appeal to filmmakers, he says: "The book, to me, is not about those things. It's about how thin they are."
"It's hard to describe what I love so much about ("The Great Gatsby")," says Collins. "It's easy to see all the ways in which it can be misunderstood. And some people think it's not a very good novel. Of course, I disagree."