F. Scott Fitzgerald died a broken and defeated author at the young age of 44, and when he died, I would summarize that no one was surprised by the fact. In fact, I would argue that his friends were surprised that Fitzgerald had made it that long. Having lived a life that was filled with sadness, self-abuse, and tragedy is a heavy burden for any man and it is one that no one deserves. Yet, like the diamond that must endure extreme heat and pressure, it is from those artists that suffer the most, that we find such amazing works.
“The Great Gatsby” is just such a gem of material that could only arise from one who has lived, suffered and lived some more. The movie is a focus on the human tragedy that we must each suffer at some point in our lives. Told through the eyes of Nick Carraway, it is an examination of how we as humans tend to focus on the things in life we cannot have.
Carraway, is the young novice to the party scene of the upcoming New York crowds of the early 1920’s. The American economy was booming, life was good, and parties were plentiful. Yet, with the exception of Carraway, each character within the story is living a life of self-destruction and deceit as they attempt to find what it is they are seeking, and so we are introduced to that of Jay Gatsby.
Gatsby is seeking lost love. The one the emotion, which drives humans to such folly as we attempt to find something that we think exists in the attention of others. Yet, this emotion can be substituted with wealth, happiness, or any of the other emotions that we feel we do not have enough. The true tragedy is no one is happy with the present. And each person, whether on screen or not, is focused on what they do not have, and what they think will bring them their own personal nirvana.
It is a story that resonates through the ages, and sadly will continue to live on. Just look at our current state of affairs.
Fitzgerald could not have written such a tragedy had he not lived the life that he had lived. It was a life focused on the continual quest for success which he felt could only be found in the glory of a successful writer’s life. Yet, success was to elude him, his work was not yet ready to be accepted by the masses, his timing for publishing “The Great Gatsby” (1925) was all wrong. America was not ready for a tragedy; it was too focused on the gaiety of life and all that it offered. America wanted to party.
So, facing failure, Fitzgerald was forced into small writing jobs that failed to bring him his glory, all the while falling deeper into a debilitating alcoholism while his beautiful wife descended into a mental illness she could not escape from. Fitzgerald, at the age of 29, was living the life of lost hopes and failed dreams, and little did he know, when the book was published, he would only have another 15 years to live.
“The Great Gatsby” is now recognized as the great American tragedy that it is. The audience can relate to these characters within the story line, because we can find ourselves within the characters. Who among us has not wished to be someone else, to be with someone else, and to be something we are not? We can relate to this story, because as we sit in the comfort of our homes, we can see the foolishness of the characters, and yet, we can also see the mirror of our lives within their characters. And, yet we cannot turn away from this tragedy of events.
“The Great Gatsby” is now in its fourth retelling. Originally released in 1949 with Alan Ladd, it was repeated in 1974 with Robert Redford, to be remade again in 2001 with Toby Stephens. Now being filmed with Leonardo DiCaprio playing Jay Gatsby, the film is scheduled for release in November of 2012.
I will argue with DiCaprio portraying the Gatsby, this next telling of this American tragedy will be its finest. DiCaprio brings a power to his characters that is simply unmatched in Hollywood today. Displaying a charisma and finesse that seems to be cut for the 1920’s, DiCaprio was born to play this character and he will deliver an Oscar worthy performance. This will be the go to adult movie for next year, as so many audience members tire of the comic book genre heavy summer.
The real tragedy of course, is Fitzgerald. The writer would toil over his works, rewriting them over and over as he sought out the very best of American prose to tell his tragedy. Fitzgerald engaged in long, hard work, which did not yield any immediate gain. Fitzgerald failed to see that his idea of the American dream is often not found with immediate gratification. It is a seed that must be planted and nourished, and over time, success will eventually spring forth.
Fitzgerald, if he just could have held on, would have seen that he is now heralded as one of America’s finest writers. And of course the lesson for all of us is to just hang on, no matter how bad things may seem.