“The Great Gatsby” is out on the big screen and a good time for fans of fellow ex-expat F. Scott Fitzgerald to focus again on one of his greatest works.
If you are like me and can’t separate the man from his works – where he draws much from his personal life and even has character Daisy quoting his wife Zelda – you, too, may have held your breath at the movie’s rolling credits waiting for “based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald” to appear. (It appears, although third or fourth down. I’d argue he deserved to be first.)
The movie, from Baz Luhrmann, stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby. Movies rarely imitate its novel perfectly and “Gatsby” is no exception. While the modern adaptation to a classic story was entertaining (over-the-top music and performers and lavish party visual effects, for example), I was pleased it mostly followed the novel’s themes – the decline of the American dream, social class differences, and 1920s jazz age. It features symbols like the dock’s green flashing light and Dr. Eckleburg billboard in the Valley of Ashes. On the other hand, Luhrmann’s Daisy I found confusing as deeper and more complex than Fitzgerald’s deliberate one dimensional, superficial character. But a key question remained the same – what role the past plays in dreams of the future – a sentiment Fitzgerald and his fellow Lost Generation expat friends, like Hemingway and Sara and Gerald Murphy, shared.
Remember, Fitzgerald found fame and fortune early on, he then lived mostly a tragic life, struggling with alcoholism, and struggling in Hollywood writing scripts and short stories to meet the expenses of his wife Zelda’s psychiatric bills and his daughter Scottie’s education. “The Great Gatsby” received mixed reviews and sold poorly. He died believing the book and his career unsuccessful. His earlier days in New York, Paris and the Riviera were an enchanted past he remembered often and expressed in his correspondence a wish to return to.
Reading or re-reading “The Great Gatsby” helps you get the most of the movie and fill in the blanks. To dig deeper, I recommend the recently released historical fiction of his wife “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” by Therese Anne Fowler ( NY Times review can be found here ) and “F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters”.
Additional Bringing Travel Home posts on the Lost Generation can be found here: