There is a saying: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the “present.” In short, this would be the theme of Woody Allen’s latest movie, “Midnight in Paris“. The phrase is common and most people knows the concept of “seize the day”, “time waits for no man”. Woody Allen took it to the next level and fulfills a fantasy of nostalgia to make the point. While we are on the point of nostalgia, I personally think this is Woody Allen at his best and is reminiscent of his earlier movie “Everyone says I love you” before he started dabbling with other genres. As if he has satisfied his curiosity of other worlds, he has returned to what he does best, a comical, self defeating yet painfully accurate view of an aspect of life. He does not discuss too much in this movie, just one point. The past versus the present, you decide.
The movie revolves around a Hollywood script writer Gil Pender who has accompanied his fiancé and her parents to Paris. In his mind, Paris is better when it is raining and it is at her best in the 20s. After a wine tasting event, as he was trying to find his way home, he discovered the Paris he had imagined in his dreams. After that, he would return again and again to “this” Paris.
It is hard to imagine watching this movie without knowing Paris. I wonder if it will evoke the same effect. When you are living in Paris and watching this movie in a Parisian theatre, every scene of Paris at its best brings both familiarity and sweet reminiscence. Paris is never always as beautiful as through Woody Allen’s lens. Taking the passage in time with Gil, the character, one can only start wondering, how great it would be to know Paris in the 20s? It is an era of intellectual gatherings, a land that inspires numerous artists and produced some of the best works of that century. I’ve always said, I wished I was in my 20s in the 20s, jazz at its birth, modernism matured, and decadent pleasure.
Is the past really better, like the pastures; are they greener on the other side? I wonder if I had lived in the 20s would I have appreciated the works of that period or wonder if the 1800s were better. Perhaps, the past is really only better for a short visit with understanding of the present.
The movie “Midnight in Paris” discusses precisely that. It finds realism in fantasy and brings fantasy back on earth. If you had watched “Everybody says I love you”, you’ll understand what I’m trying to say where words are a limitation. In the final scenes of Everybody, a couple was singing and dancing by the river in Paris. The female character would jump in the air or twirl around in air while they waltz. It seemed perfectly normal yet abnormal. As a genre, I have only seen this done with such grace in the works of Woody Allen. And he has, with the same grace and simplicity, addressed a complex human behavior.
He had the help of a good cast. In particular, Owen Wilson is either perfectly made for the role or has perfected his acting skills. A memorable scene was the close up on the face Gil (Owen Wilson’s character) as he stares in a mixture of disbelief, enchantment and loss. That is an Oscar moment.
In the end, when we star at the present in our face, will we, do we and are we living up to the wise saying? Is the present a gift or a platform for discontentment?