Nostalgia and Golden Age Thinking in Woody Allen's 'Midnight in Paris' and F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby'

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Nostalgia and golden age thinking are an exceedingly critical aspect in Fitzgerald and Allen’s works, as through these concepts they are able to convey a noteworthy message regarding the role of dreams and illusions as motivators. Nostalgia is truly one of the great human weaknesses and people underestimate the power it has. We need to establish an understanding of what it is, what evokes this nostalgia and maybe even question if it’s healthy for us to be dwelling in the past. Typically, it is defined as a sentimentality for the past, naturally for a period or place with happy personal association. I for one, find the concept quite alluring. One of my greatest dreams in life is to be able to experience every era for at least one day, to see, to live, to breathe in the past, and I’ve noticed, that most of the time I have this feeling is because I’m unhappy or in a difficult situation, where I just want to escape my reality. We must learn to effectively cope with these problems that hinder one's happiness. For Mr. Gatsby, we can see that this didn’t work out too well. On the other hand, Gil Pender, our romantic dreamer, successfully obtained his realistic dream through a revelation of reality.

Woody Allen’s film ‘Midnight in Paris’ holds many treasures, where we, the audience, feel this sudden intrigue in every scene. Specifically, we see this golden age philosophy that illuminates the film, that gives purpose to the moral of the story. Ironically, the slight antagonist and so called pseudo-intellectual, Paul, remarks nostalgia as denial of the painful present, calling it golden age thinking that is a flaw in the romantic imagination. Allen selecting Paul to say this at the beginning of the film, then foreshadows Gil’s realization seen later on.

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Our story begins in the first chapter of the film. Before any clear introduction to our characters, the scene is set. With romantic Parisian jazz music and lengthy shots of Paris, Allen has already captured this atmosphere suitable for entering the realm of eternal nostalgia.

Gil’s realization is then seen in Chapter 8, when Gil and Adriana return to the 1890s of Paris, the Belle-Epoque. Through a conversation with Adrianna, Gil suddenly has an epiphany. He concludes that no matter what era you may be from, you’re never really satisfied with your present. Gil then clearly states, “It’s the present, it’s a little unsatisfying because life’s a little unsatisfying”, and it is in that line where Gil acknowledges his reality, where his dream of the 1920s and his travels to the past indicate the problems in his present. Allen has depicted this scene in a way with subdued warm lighting and a muted background, with close up shots focusing on each of their facial expressions, thus bringing emphasis on the conversation, rather than everything around them. This accentuates the importance of the scene.

We see Gil accept his present in the last chapter of the film. The scene begins with a dispute between Inez and Gil, illustrating the unhappy relationship they are in, establishing their breakup and fixing Gil’s present. After the fight scene, the camera shifts towards Gil who is sitting alone at a Parisian café. The non-diegetic music is that of which began the film, thus symbolizing the beginning of something new for Gil.

We see a mid-shot of Gil walking out of a famous nostalgic bookshop ‘Shakespeare and Company’. This shot of him demonstrates how he is ‘stepping’ out of his nostalgic mindset and focusing on his present. There is then a long shot of the Eiffel Tower glistening, and as the clock strikes midnight, Gil is no longer seen at the corner he would wait to travel back in time, representing him moving on from the past. Gil has finally accepted his reality, where he found the problem, being Inez, threw her out, and can now be satisfied with his present, where his nostalgia no longer craves the dream for returning to a ‘golden age’.

Jazz. Booze. Women. Parties. Ahhh, Welcome to the 20s. The ‘great’ man himself, Jay Gatsby, although was filthy rich and living a lavish life, his nostalgic dream to win over a girl, basically got him killed. Next, I’m going to explore the dangers of nostalgia and ‘golden age’ thinking that established Gatsby’s fatal flaw, leading to his death.

Gatsby’s steadfast pursuit of the past is also a pursuit of his own soul. According to Nick, Gatsby “wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps that had gone into loving Daisy” (Chapter 6, pg. 106). This symbolizes Gatsby’s longing for the past, and only by recovering the past could he hope to recover himself. But we see that tragically, Gatsby can’t repeat the past, and the past and his soul remain lost to him forever.

In Chapter 5, Gatsby symbolically breaks the clock in Nick’s house. It should come as no surprise, then, that reality will not match a dream, and that this motivation, this nostalgia that Gatsby has invested in Daisy is out of reach to him, that the time they once had is over. This concept of time is then classified as a motif throughout the novel. It represents both the passage of time and Gatsby's inability to stop it from marching on. The ‘face’ breaking, is another futile attempt to symbolically stop time, but is also a real way to snap Gatsby into the problems of the non-dream state.

The novel ends by universalizing the themes of our imagined goals, and the overwhelming nostalgia that informs them. Everyone’s life is a voyage, to show this, Fitzgerald metaphorically puts is as pushing on against the odds, towards an imagined destination, but the current we stride against seems to know that what humanity wants is not a destination, not a future, but a return to the past which we desperately rely on with unbearable nostalgia.

In conclusion, the message we uncover is that nostalgia can be such an important part of our lives. If we use it wisely. Allen and Fitzgerald demonstrate through their works how we all have these memories and dreams, we can’t seem to let go of and at times it really feels like we never will. And that It’s okay for us to go visit these memories, just as long as we don’t get stuck there. Because if you don’t let the past die, it won’t let you live.

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Nostalgia and Golden Age Thinking in Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’ and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/nostalgia-and-golden-age-thinking-in-woody-allens-midnight-in-paris-and-f-scott-fitzgeralds-the-great-gatsby/
“Nostalgia and Golden Age Thinking in Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’ and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’.” Edubirdie, 01 Mar. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/nostalgia-and-golden-age-thinking-in-woody-allens-midnight-in-paris-and-f-scott-fitzgeralds-the-great-gatsby/
Nostalgia and Golden Age Thinking in Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’ and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/nostalgia-and-golden-age-thinking-in-woody-allens-midnight-in-paris-and-f-scott-fitzgeralds-the-great-gatsby/> [Accessed 20 Jun. 2024].
Nostalgia and Golden Age Thinking in Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’ and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Mar 01 [cited 2024 Jun 20]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/nostalgia-and-golden-age-thinking-in-woody-allens-midnight-in-paris-and-f-scott-fitzgeralds-the-great-gatsby/
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