The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair, but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence. – Gertrude Stein, Midnight in Paris
I’m going to venture into some SPOILER territory here. If you have not seen Midnight in Paris and would like to see it, I must implore that you stop reading. Come back later, after you’ve watched it 🙂
The trailers, when I first saw them, merely showed the viewers that it is one of those typical Woody Allen films where the main character, an American writer, falls in love with the city he’s currently residing, in this case Paris. His late night amorous walks around town gains suspicion from his in-laws-to-be. Imagine my surprise when Midnight finally hits theaters. On a night when I was working in the projection booth, I caught sight of Owen Wilson finding himself in a bar filled with characters dressed in clothing from the 1920s. Not having the time to figure out what was happening, I leave to thread another projector and start another movie. When I come back, Wilson is back in the present. What the frak?
First and foremost, the theme is nostalgia, or rather the Golden Age way of thinking. Gil Pender is a Hollywood writer who is struggling to write his first book. In the beginning, we are introduced to his romanticism, his nostalgia and dream to live in the 1920s where everything was “simpler.” His fiancé, Inez (Rose McGowan), and her parents are the typical rich American family already set in their ways and in the American lifestyle. Where Gil would prefer to walk and take in the sights of the city in the rain, everyone else would rather rush off into a cab and head straight for the next destination.
Eventually, Gil finds himself hiking the empty streets of Paris at midnight and is approached by a Peugeot Type 176. He is immediately absconded to a party where he meets Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and even Ernest Hemingway! The extraordinary cameos don’t stop at these legendary writers, Gil meets Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dalí, and many more creative idols of that era. My favorites are Dalí (Adrian Brody) and Hemingway. They’re exactly how I imagined them respectively when I learned about them; Dalí as an extreme eccentric, and Hemingway as the manliest of men (“Who wants to fight!”)
I believe that love that is true and real, creates a respite from death. All cowardice comes from not loving or not loving well, which is the same thing. And then the man who is brave and true looks death squarely in the face, like some rhino-hunters I know or Belmonte, who is truly brave… It is because they make love with sufficient passion, to push death out of their minds… until it returns, as it does, to all men… and then you must make really good love again. – Hemingway, Midnight in Paris
Gil pops in and out of the 20s by chance, all beginning at midnight with a Peugeot taking him on his next adventure. At first we are to believe that Gil may be going crazy; his romantic imagination carrying off and taking over. But then we slowly realize that it may actually be happening. The first and arguably the only indication we get comes in the form of an old diary from the 1920s. Gil unwittingly stumbles upon the antique and has it translated by a French guide he meets earlier in the movie. During the translation, Gil’s name and description is mentioned. That’s the concrete evidence. The next little hint we receive is when Gil and Adriana (Marion Cotillard) find themselves in a pre-Turn of the Century Paris with Toulouse-Lautrec in the Moulin Rouge.
Don’t get me wrong, this movie is very Woody Allen. What places this apart from all of his other films is that I actually like this one. The science fiction aspect is small, but it is there nonetheless. Who would have thought that Woody Allen would dip his toes into time travel and not let the story get bogged down by the science aspect? It just happens and we’re along for the ride. How it starts, how it ends, and how it will ever happen again is a complete mystery. But it’s there, and it comes at the protagonist’s time of personal crisis.
Sometimes we don’t need to concern ourselves with a lengthy explanation on how the flux capacitor works. Mary Shelly merely mentioned a green fog before the rise of Frankenstein’s monster. As long as the protagonist experiences true growth in the insane adventures thrown at him or her, that’s all that really matters.