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Zelda Fitzgerald In Midnight In Paris

A screen shot from Midnight In Paris, of F Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald

Screen shot from Midnight In Paris, copyright © 2011 Warner Brothers.

I want to explore the interpretation and portrayal of Zelda in Midnight In Paris, played by Alison Pill. (I’ve previously written about the film as a whole here.) I like comparing interpretation to reality and film adaptations are in my head at the moment as I’m writing about them for a future post. Midnight In Paris, being book-led, is one that’s often in mind. This will be a bit of a ‘facts’ post.

Zelda, together with husband Scott, was an emblem of the Jazz Age. The pair are still celebrated for it, as Scott’s books have remained in print and Zelda’s work is becoming more recognised. We’re also, now, writing about her and studying her. The Zelda and Scott of the film are sociable; it’s obvious they have many friends and are part of many circles.

Zelda disliked Ernest Hemingway – Hemingway blamed her for Scott’s declining literary output. (How much we can say about this is difficult but we know they enjoyed a busy social life.) In the film, Zelda introduces Gil to Hemingway and whilst she’s perfectly polite there’s a slight coldness, an indifference. She stays for a few minutes and then wants to head out. So we’re not told about any problems between her and Hemingway but that under-the-surface atmosphere gently simmers. It’s more a suggestion – and would you notice it if you didn’t already know about her life? – but she’s not partying with him, and he seems okay, if not particularly enthused, with the idea of talking to Gil. The film’s portrayal here is one of gentle showing. The rift isn’t something to focus on.

Zelda and Scott’s marriage was plagued by drinking, affairs, and recriminations. Zelda has been portrayed in history as the victim of an overbearing husband. Diagnosed with Schizophrenia, she was increasingly confined to clinics. The film doesn’t look at any overbearing but it does look at the drinking. Zelda gets very merry and towards the end becomes suicidal. We can assume the suicide aspect here is included to show the progression of her life within that short time frame, but it does introduce us to the affairs and arguments because film Zelda, drunk, is wanting to throw herself in the river because Scott’s been seen with another woman. If anything, in the film, Zelda is shown to be overbearing; it’s not obvious that she’s mentally ill, more that she’s in anguish over her husband’s infidelity. Her fairly neutral behaviour early on isn’t linked properly because of the film’s focus on Gil.

As a child, Zelda was spoiled by her mother. Her father was strict and remote. The family was prominent, southern. Zelda liked the outdoors and enjoyed ballet. She didn’t enjoy academics so much – she was bright but didn’t like lessons. The film puts an emphasise on her regional background, her heavy accent, and there is a nod to her education when she speaks of her own work. She vastly prefers parties, it seems.

As she got older, Zelda drank, smoked, and spent time with boys. She was a leader amongst her peers, gaining an appetite for attention, for flouting social norms. Her ruin was prevented by her father’s reputation. All said, she was in a lucky situation and very privileged. What we get from the film in this case is her privilege in the literary circle; she knows many people and, if the real Zelda was like film Zelda, she was happy to share her network. Again, most of what we can tell of Zelda from the film is shown in the characterisation, direction, and in the actor’s bearing.

I was intrigued to find the interpretation of Zelda in Midnight In Paris to be pretty accurate as far as our – admittedly lacking – knowledge is concerned. (I’ll always remember my history tutor telling us to view media and documentaries made for mass consumption, when looking for evidence and opinions, but to be sceptical of the details when we didn’t know otherwise.) Midnight In Paris gets it right. The main limitation is that a film is far shorter than a life so film Zelda does a lot more things in a shorter time. The film shows the dynamics of her relationship with Scott and we could always say the film shows later stages – how problems had started to turn into troubles.

From the film we get someone who could be irrational but also intelligent, well-connected, and friendly. The film deals with the problems openly but remains respectful. You get a good picture of who the real person was.

Which portrayals of real people have you found to be quite or particularly accurate?


Wikipedia’s article on Zelda Fitzgerald, accessed May 2016



September 14, 2016, 3:45 pm

Enjoyed your analysis! It is really interesting to compare portrayals of real people in books and movies to what we know of them in real life. I can’t think of any movies at the moment but Colm Toibin did an excellent job of portraying Henry James in The Master.

Tracy Terry

September 15, 2016, 7:06 pm

What a fascinating piece. I suppose a time when women had less choice, its just awful to think that perhaps not so much mentally ill as suffering as a result of her relationship.


September 15, 2016, 7:50 pm

Stefanie: Thank you! Colm Toibin? Interesting; I didn’t know he was an actor as well as a writer!

Tracy: Thank you, and that is an excellent point, Tracy. From what I’ve read the diagnosis was real (as opposed to all that ‘hysteria’) but certainly I would say much could be put down to the relationship. We can only work with what we know and we’re only going to know so much – it’s easy to say such and such happened but we’re always looking from the outside and now, of course both from the outside and into the past.



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