Hemingway has been portrayed in film regularly over the last 20 years. He has been written about significantly more than F. Scott Fitzgerald—perhaps because his life was longer and with a few more highs to focus on—but often in film, only one side of Hemingway is emphasized and the total picture of the man doesn’t seem to emerge. He’s either portrayed as a bragging drunkard whose light shown brightest only in his early works or as a macho, thrill-seeking hunter/bullfighting aficionado/fisherman who covered wars and rarely let up on the macho image that blessed and cursed him.
In all of my reading, I have seen another side of him that is very much present. Next to the drunkard braggart, there is also the gentle and insecure man who just wants to be left alone to write. Next to the macho big game hunter is the man who considered his animals part of the family and whom he treated with caring gratitude and love. When his spaniel Black Dog died, the depression that was already in progress deepened and he said he’d give up all of his fame and money for a case of good claret and “my Black Dog back when he was young and happy again.” And while capable of harshness to all of his wives at moments, he also gave generous support and kind appreciation for what they gave to him, including Martha whom he tended to vilify after the divorce. He readily acknowledged her writing skill and her courage. I don’t see too many of those nuanced aspects of Hemingway being portrayed on film.
In any event, I read an article that talks about the following Hemingway based films:
- In Love And War: Sandra Bullock plays the alter-ego of Agnes Van Kurowsky, Hemingway’s real life love when he was an ambulance driver in Italy. Chris O’Donnell was the Hemingway figure. It was not an intriguing movie.
- The Last Good Country: This is short film portraying Hemingway returning home after World War I, haunted by physical and psychological demons. The film is supposed to be inspired, in part, by Hemingway’s story Big Two-Hearted River. The part of Hemingway is played by Nic Collins and from the reviews, he apparently acquits himself well in portraying the complexity of Hemingway’s war and postwar life.
3. Midnight In Paris: This is Woody Allen’s love film to Paris, but it also shows our stereotypical Hemingway who is portrayed with great fun by Corey Stoll. When Hemingway, apropos of nothing, shouts in a bar, “Does anyone want to fight?” I admit to laughing out loud.
4. Genius: This film just came out in June and focuses on Max Perkins, editor extraordinaire to Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe. The focus of the movie is on Wolfe, but Hemingway is in it in a few vignettes in which Perkins goes fishing with Hemingway presumably in Key West since this is set in 1929.
- Hemingway & Gellhorn: The title is self-explanatory, but was something of a bore. Clive Owen played Hemingway; Nicole Kidman was Martha. Critics found it to be fairly dreadful.
- Papa Hemingway In Cuba: This is also a new movie based on the true story of Hemingway’s friendship with Ed Myers, a young journalist. Reviews were mixed about whether it was not good or whether, as some critics said, “Sparks is superb in the title role and he captures Hemingway’s warmth as well as his irascible nature.”
A new film by Ken Burns for PBS is about to come out. Hoping it is balanced and fair. We all know the bad. It is there for sure. But there is a lot of good! Happy New Year to Hemingway readers and us devoted amateurs!
Even a bad Hemingway film can be look-worthy. Love, Christine