Midnight in Paris: Ode to the Things That Never Were

MAY / JUNE 2015: BY DEBORAH OLIVERA

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Midnight in Paris isn’t a story about time travel. It’s a story about longing. It’s about yearning for an age you’ve never experienced, wishing that whatever meaningless actions you take in life will carry weight. It’s about wanting to be a part of something bigger than yourself, and hoping you are the main character in your own story. It’s about how we idealize people, love, stories, and choose to ignore the flaws that surround them. It’s about wanting more.

The main character Gil Pender is a writer who, after a drunk walk through the streets of Paris gets him lost, the mysterious passengers of a midnight car urge him to join them, only to find that he’s suddenly transported to 1920’s Paris, meeting the great writers and artists he so admires. Talk about fun/weird. He meets Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dali, Picasso, T.S. Eliot, and even Gertrude Stein. They share quips together, anecdotes, drinks, and parties. He experiences what all writers long for, to meet their literary heroes, perhaps even as equals.

What struck me the most about Midnight In Paris was it’s brilliant and unconventional use of time travel. Some films, like Back to the Future, Kate & Leopold, or Groundhog Day, will play the convention for laughs—someone getting stuck in time and trying to figure out what it takes to blend in or get themselves out. Other films, like Terminator, Looper, or About Time (which I highly recommend, if only for Bill Nighy) are about fixing mistakes in the past, and using time travel as a means to do so. Even Doctor Who is a romp through the ages, the dated backgrounds mere setting for alien adventures.

Midnight In Paris is different. It uses the 1920’s as an exploration for Gil’s inability to cope with his present. The use of time travel here is paramount to the plot—as is the place he lands in. His idealized love of a different era is much like our own longing for something deeper in life.

I won’t lie and say that I’m a fan of Owen Wilson’s constant gibbering, and though Woody Allen’s name on anything will at least spark my interest, even Tom Hiddleston’s name attached to the picture didn’t raise the appeal enough to watch the film. However, when I got wind that part of the story took place in the 1920’s, I was hooked.

I love the 20s. The glamour, the music, the mafia, the clothes… I can suspend my dislike for the sexism and racism for two hours if you can promise me the reckless actions of the white elite with a few gunshots thrown in. Maybe even a private eye, or a mob boss. A flapper dress. One of my favorite presentations I have ever done in my academic years involved the reading, re-reading, and the systematic ruin of my only copy of The Great Gatsby as I made an analysis on the author’s use of color. (Don’t even get me started on my delight when I discovered Tom Hiddleston is the one that plays F. Scott Fitzgerald, the writer of The Great Gatsby.)

I’m not the only one. Our generation is inundated with an obsession for the past. One look at our fashion, music choices, cult films, TV shows, subcultures, and they will ell you we love “vintage.” We ache for times and eras we have never been a part of, for authenticity, for community.

Is it because of the sudden rise of technology that we favor less technologically advanced objects? (I’m surrounded by so many devices that sometimes I need to read a book for a while… outside, without cell reception.) Is it because of our shattered belief in safety that we push the desire to live in community? Is it because of increased globalization that we yearn for things to be authentic? (I’ve got a friend in Japan and another in France. We talk to each other in the same manner as we would if they lived nearby. Emails. Tweets. Blog Posts.)

Whatever the reason, this nostalgia is not confined to this movie or our generation, even though it seems most evident among millennials. Take a look at any film and some older character will be sitting in a creaking rocking chair droning on and on about “the good old days”—how things were better in some era or another. This is the embodiment of Owen Wilson’s character in Midnight in Paris. He idealizes the 1920’s, so fate intervenes and takes him there by the means of a magical cab ride. What I wouldn’t give for that.

But maybe it’s about more than dreaming of a better time, or fleeing your current troubles. We long for a world where things are in an eternal golden age. Where the possibilities and the universe tip in our favor. We want more like we miss it—but we’ve never even experienced it.

A quote by C.S Lewis comes to mind: “These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the Thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

I can’t help but agree. What is this nostalgia or longing more than a desire for things when they were closer to perfect? Closer to the True thing we long for. Midnight in Paris preaches a Truth—we shouldn’t be living in any era other than the now—but it also illustrates an unintended Truth: we long for things that are not of this world, because we are not a part of it. Because we’ve been cut off from the Truth that gives us Life. ◦

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Olivera is a freelance video editor, aspiring writer, and full-time missionary. She’s super passionate about the power of Story, is 100% a geek/nerd, and would find a metaphor if it was hidden under a rock. Her website is www.branchfromthevine.com, where you can read weekly devotions and donate to her ministry.

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