Inspired by the trailer for the upcoming Baz Luhrmann film featuring Leonardo Di Caprio as Gatsby, I revisited my favorite book. The novella had lain forgotten in my mind for years but after reading the first chapter, I was hooked again. As a self-professed student of history, I consider “The Great Gatsby” is the most accurate and famous account of 1920s America, known as the Jazz Age, a term coined by Fitzgerald.
As the voice-over in the trailer says, “The tempo of the city had changed sharply. The buildings were higher, the parties were bigger, the morals were looser, the liquor was cheaper. The restlessness approached hysteria.”
The Jazz Age created a new romanticism and the American Dream. It was a period with a booming economy and advances in entertainment, including a rapid expansion in TV and film. It was a generation living in the aftershock of WWI. Many a man was looking to live their lavish dreams in big and beautiful cities, like New York, where the book is set. Young professionals flocked to Wall Street and bootlegging gave the poor new wealth. Prohibition married with this new-found wealth created an atmosphere for extravagant parties. Gatsby is an icon of this phenomenon. As Nick, the main character says, ““I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby’s house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited–they went there.”
Generations after Fitzgerald have been seduced by the opulence of the Roaring ’20s. Midnight in Paris pays special attention to the romanticism of this luxurious life in the context of another city filled with iconic American expatriates of the time and features Fitzgerald himself is a prominent character. However, many realized the moral dilemmas of their lifestyle, driving to their beautifully tragic downfalls. The life he built chasing his dream of the perfect woman preys on Gatsby.
My hair raised with a body spasm as if someone had walked over my grave while watching the trailer for the anticipated film. “No Church in the Wild” by Kanye West and Jay Z perfectly juxtaposed modern New York party life with the beautiful people in beautiful cars of the Jazz Age on-screen. The music is perfectly fitting for the enthralling portrait of greed, selfishness, desire and the fast-paced high life of the opulent and decadent.
We accept that this lifestyle is enchanting, we desire for it, we act on it and “So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight.” Some become predators, and some become prey. In the end, does it really matter?
Go read this fantastic novel, and watch the film this winter. It’s a quick read but you will feel for this beautiful story, without fail.