What captured me most about that trailer was, surprisingly, the soundtrack. How can a movie set in the 1920s have a trailer set to Kanye West and Jack White? I wondered. I was reminded of the movie A Knight's Tale, which was one of my favorite movies as a kid. I once read an interview with someone involved in that movie--the director, maybe--where he said that the classic rock soundtrack was meant to echo the changing music and social mores in the medieval period in which the movie was set, much like what the '60s and '70s were to the latter half of the 20th century.
What a cool idea, I thought.
In fact, there is an oft-neglected decade when we talk about social change in America: the 1920s. Sure, you might know that it's the time of flappers and speakeasies and funny catchphrases like "the cat's pajamas," but what these things actually meant for the America that would eventually become a superpower is rarely discussed--most especially flappers.
Flappers is a catch-all term for the women who wore their hair short, wore short skirts and funny hats, and did such revolutionary things as have sex before marriage and drive cars. They fought for women's suffrage and stayed out late at parties (like the ones Gatsby throws at his sprawling mansion), and generally did things to change the face of America (and the West in general) forever.
The men of The Great Gatsby--the lovestruck Gatsby himself, our narrator Nick, and the despicable Tom Buchanan--are fleshed-out portraits of the American Dream gone wrong; characters onto which the reader can project himself. But it is the female characters--Daisy, the object of Gatsby's affections; Jordan, the tennis player and casual date of Nick; and Myrtle, Tom's mistress--that captured me most: all defined by men, and all treated more or less badly by them. It seems that even as social and sexual mores were changing, women still existed to be put in their place--a theme of the 20th century at large.
Zelda Sayre and F. Scott Fitzgerald
This story is echoed in the bitter marriage of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre, both of whom talented writers and both of whom consumed with jealousy and envy of the other. Zelda dated casually for years before her marriage to Scott, and was decidedly autonomous. Tragically, her mental health declined steadily until her institutionalization in 1930, followed by many subsequent institutionalizations and episodes. Theories on her mental illness range from untreated bipolar disorder to schizophrenia, but there is also speculation that Fitzgerald's jealousy over Zelda's considerable talent--which led him to effectively eliminate any chances of Zelda's own novel, Save Me the Waltz, succeeding during her lifetime--helped to destroy her health. (For further reading, I'd recommend this blog post on A Boat Against the Current.)
I can't imagine a better way to conclude this blog post than the final words of The Great Gatsby:
…It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.