Dreams As Toxic And Distort View Of Reality In Midnight In Paris And Great Gatsby

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Dreams can be powerful positive driving forces for change in our lives, but can become toxic and distort our view of reality. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic, the Great Gatsby (1925), whisks us off to the Jazz Age in New York as the story of Jay Gatsby is told through the eyes of Nick Carraway. The tragic life story of a man who did everything in his power to be able to recreate the past and finally grasp his dream of having ‘the Golden Girl’ and the most extravagant life. Midnight in Paris is a 2011 film directed by Woody Allen that follows Gil Pender on a trip to Paris with his fiancé Inez, where Gil pursues his Golden Age dream of Paris in the 1920’s where major influences including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemmingway lived. The movie explores the notion that you will never be truly satisfied with what you have as once you have what you thought you always wanted, your desire changes. I believe that this notion is one that has and still does affect our society today as people chase their dreams of the ‘perfect’ life and often get lost along the way. ‘You can’t repeat the past’ is one of the most famous quotes from the Great Gatsby presenting the themes of the past and its effects on the future. It demonstrates just how toxic and distorting a person’s view on reality can be if they get too obsessed and caught up in their dream. This quote explores the notion that misunderstanding is, perhaps the very essence of Gatsby’s failure and also of his greatness as his dream both motivated and pushed him to achieve great things, yet it pushed him too far that it consequently resulted in his death. You could say it was his tragic flaw.

I think we can compare this idea with that of driving a car. Imagine, you are driving your dream car to reach your dream holiday destination; so in my case, a Maserati GranTurismo in Positano, Italy. You are doing approximately 90km/h as majority of us are on our L’s, but as you get closer and closer to your dream destination, your excitement grows and your need to get to your destination that you have waited and worked so hard to get to increases, so much so that your foot subconsciously presses down harder on the accelerator so now you are doing about 120km/h. Everything around you is whooshing into one blur as you zoom, keeping your eyes looking ahead for the first glimpse of your dream destination. As you go around the last bend, you do not realise just how fast you are going…. it too late. Your car goes thundering over the edge followed by a huge crash. Your dream motivated you. Your dream pushed you to be able to get to your dream destination. You got too obsessed and blinded by your dream. It became toxic and distorted your view of reality and your speed. You didn’t get to reach your dream.

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The ‘single green light’ that Gatsby gazes at wistfully from his own house across the water represents the unattainable dream that must have seems so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. Gatsby’s dream is a lost love. Gatsby’s dream is Daisy. He thinks that in order to have the possibility to get his dream girl he must recreate the past, however, Gatsby gets too preoccupied and obsessed with the past that he lives in a dreamlike state with no firm grip on reality that his present has been distorted to try to look like the past. This is why when Nick tells him he cannot recreate the past he cannot believe it, as in his distorted vision, he has almost recreated the past enough to be within an arms-reach of his dream as evident via the personification of the shadows in the first quote. Gatsby believes that he can reach his goal and his dream of attaining Daisy is motivating him to continue his attempts of reaching his dream. Gatsby seeks what Daisy wants but he simply does not know what that is, this demonstrates that relationships are consuming and diminishing him. The inaccessibility of the green light for Gatsby is a fundamental element of its symbolism. Similarly to Gatsby, Gil in Midnight in Paris is also chasing a dream and living in an illusion of a distorted reality. Gil Pender is a Hollywood screenwriter who has settled for what people tell him he should want including money, a stable but unfulfilling job and fame. Instead of breaking free from the prison cell he has built himself, Gil dreams of living in Paris in the Roaring Twenties. Gil’s fantasised Golden Age is a romanticised version of the past Paris during the Jazz Age and the Lost Generation, full of his favourite writers and artists, literature, art and culture. The movie addresses the topic of the world’s fascination with the romanticisation of Paris and Allen clarifies the distortion of the American nostalgia fantasy of Paris and demonstrates the dangers of longing for a dream or illusion as it distracts from dealing with reality. The film shows Gil wishing he had lived in the 1920’s instead of facing and making changes in his own reality. Gil was unsatisfied with his life and instead of using his dream as a motivation to change his situation to create a more fulfilling life, he lost himself in a distorted view of his dream Golden Age world. Nostalgia distorted the past into what he wanted it to be just like it did with Gatsby.

As evident in the scene screenshots, the enveloping warmth and sepia tones create an alluring and welcoming façade for both Gil and Adrianna’s Golden Age. The lighting of the Golden Age scenes is quite dim and intimate adding to the romantic atmosphere of the fantasised time with their being high contrasts between shadows and highlights emphasising this. Contrasting to the dimness, the sources of lights are bright and eye-drawing portraying the concept of light and illusion. The rich warm tinted colours add to the comforting nostalgic feel of the golden age. The various diegetic Parisian music in both scenes including La Conga Blicoti which Joséphine Barker is dancing too, magnify the alluringness of past Paris, as well as there constantly being the murmur of chatter and laughter in the bars and restaurants adding to the warm façade. During Gil’s present, not only are the shots wide, overexposed and drained of colour, but he is always positioned off to the side of the screen communicating his detachment and resentment with his reality. However when he is in the golden age, he is shown in the centre with close up shots capturing his facial expressions and showing his engagement with the time.

Thankfully unlike Gatsby, Gil wakes up from his entrancement with his golden age dream that has distorted his view to realise that you cannot escape your reality and that yes, the present is a little unsatisfying but that’s because life a little unsatisfying. Gil realises that you will never be happy with what you have and your dream or golden age will always change once you have obtained it. You have to live in the present and surround yourself with people and problems in your time in order appreciate and make the most of your life. Gil’s feelings for Adrianna are a metaphor for his feelings of Paris; everyone loves her and she is beautiful but he cannot obtain her as she inhabits another time. This is the same for Gatsby in regards to Daisy. Both Gatsby and Gil fell under the alluring spell of their dreams but unlike Gil, Gatsby was never able to wake up. Whilst both men’s golden era that they are trying to go back to are both associated with their dream girl, both don’t realise that it is not the age you are in but who you are with.

And that is the danger with dreams, although they can be powerful positive driving forces for change in our lives, they can become toxic and distort our view of reality which can result in loosing ourselves in them as a pose to actively trying to make the most of our realities. These two stories teach just how important it is to yes chase our dreams, but if those dreams involve the past, we must all remember that we cannot repeat or recreate the past. We can only live and make the most of your reality.


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