Midnight in Paris

Midnight In Paris.
PG-13. 94 minutes.
Written and directed by Woody Allen.
Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, and Kathy Bates.
Released June 10, 2011.

Even Little Cuckoos In Their Clocks Do It; Let’s Fall In Love

Usually a Woody Allen movie in itself isn’t enough to make rush to the theater. I heard Midnight In Paris was cute, but the reviews left me thinking it was Woody Allen making a Wedding Crashers reunion of Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams. Until my friend Brad, an English professor and Hemingway Scholar, told me that the whole movie was about Paris in the 1920’s with Hemingway and Fitzgerald and the rest of the Lost Generation. As soon as I heard this, I hopped onto my computer and found the next theater and showtime—which wasn’t until 10:05am the following day half an hour from my house. And that is where I was the next morning. Just me and five senior citizens.

The exciting part about the movie experience was that I didn’t know much about it at all except that it has to do with Hemingway, and as a good Hem-ophile that was enough for me. Of course since anyone who has ever read Old Man And The Sea in high school has an opinion on Hemingway and feel free to recycle the same misconceptions as fact, I wasn’t sure how he was going to be portrayed—and was immediately thrown a curve ball when the movie opens up in present day Paris.

The first ten seconds of the film is clearly a love letter to Paris. As a city and as a source of great inspiration, just today as it was 90-years ago. The beginning minutes of the movie have no dialogue and no monologue—it’s just shots of modern day Paris and 1920’s music. This was something else that immediately endeared me to this movie, since I think the biggest flaw with movies today is that they are too scared to take their time. Something Allen clearly wasn’t with this movie. This opening montage is then counter balanced by a cut to black and a listing of the credits, and then with no pictures on the screen at all anymore, we just hear Owen Wilson’s character, Gil, talking to his fiancé about the magic and wonder of Paris. He talks about the inspiration it brings and about the greats that have been there, he talks about everything that makes Paris, as Hemingway called it, a Moveable Feast. How Paris is the type of city that makes you want to walk in the rain.

In this opening one-sided dialogue, the dynamics of their relationship are established. Gil is a romantic and a dreamer and a lover; his fiancé, Inez (Rachel McAdams) is…well, whatever it is, it’s the opposite of that. Sorry Wedding Crasher fans. It is made clear right off the bat that Gil was an in-demand Hollywood script writer who was tired of selling his soul just to make a buck, but Inez is always quick to point out it was more than “just a buck.” Their relationship seems stressed as soon as we meet them. Inez is a lot like her family and almost loathe to the fact that they are stuck in Paris for the time being. Their relationship is further put to the test when she bumps into an old flame that she never quite extinguished. And from there on we fall onto a familiar ground that Woody paves, where the lovable man is looked down upon by the over-bearing, more dominant woman of the relationship.

So maybe by now, like me, you are trying to figure out just where the 1920’s and Hemingway fit in. It happens one night when after a rooftop wine tasting, Gil clearly doesn’t understand to spit out the wine, and Inez and her pedantic crush wish to go dancing—a scenario that reminded me a lot of The Sun Also Rises, something I suspect was done on purpose to set the mood. Gil sends them on their way and tries to find his way home alone and drunk. He soon gives up and sits down on some random steps, where he is picked up by a car from the 1920’s by Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and brought to meet the rest of the Lost Generation.

That is where I leave you, because I hate when movie reviews ruin all the jokes and plot-points of the movie they are reviewing. From here let’s talk about Hemingway and time travel and love. The first thing I love, that not too many film makers don’t capitalize on, is that you can do anything you want in movies with time travel AS LONG as you don’t try and explain yourself. Force the viewers to use their imagination. How can he go back in time? How does he come back? Why do they remember him when he does? These things are never explained, because explanations are where movies start to fall apart. The only real rule is to stick to the rules of the universe you’ve created. And Woody does just that, perfectly.

The way Hemingway is portrayed in this, I thought, was brilliant. He’s a bit of an egomaniac but in the way that all great writers are. He talks about this to Gil when they first meet. As you watch the movie you get a better sense of who Hemingway was. This movie of course is a dramatization but it was indeed written with great respect and love for the man and his work. He’s not portrayed in stereotype or as belligerent, no more so than anyone else he was with. And as viewers we can gain a greater understanding of why Gil wanted to go back to that time. All the greats of their crafts: Cole Porter, Picasso, Dali, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, T.S. Elliot—they were all friends, living in the same circles, changing everything we know about art and writing and music. It’s fascinating to see how they interact with each other and help each other and critique each other. This isn’t a documentary so it’s not completely true to life, of course, but you can tell it’s crafted with such love that it probably could serve as one…except for the whole time travel aspect.

Time travel. Yes, yes, there isn’t a person among us that hasn’t thought they were a fish out of water, or born in the wrong time. This movie serves as a great wake up call to the fact that that’s always been the case. People in 2011 dream of 1920’s, but the people in the 1920’s dream about the 1890’s, and the people in the 1890’s dream about the Renaissance. None of us really feel comfortable where we are, but that’s the point. We make it through and we give it our best shot because this is where we are now. We can’t go back in time, and if we could we’d just be surrounded by people we admire, who wish they were somewhere else. So in a way this movie straddles a line between a dreamer/romantic worldview and realism. Where the main characters get their epiphanies about their place in time at the same time the viewers get theirs. And the movie is filled with just as much hope as anything else. Even if that hope is rooted in us not loving where we are at this exact moment in our lives. But once we learn to appreciate this, we see that the here and now and the life we are in is a pretty great one, if you learn to open your eyes to it.

Joshua Eric Murray
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