Midnight in Paris works because it unabashedly plays with all the romantic fantasies associated with Paris. Or more precisely, the Paris of Hemingway which he wrote about in “A Moveable Feast”. The film indulges us in a fantasy world made up of the artists of that period. Conjuring an illusion which is a joy and fun to watch.
Gil (Owen Wilson) is an American screenplay writer. Successful in Hollywood, but who’s real dream is to write literary novels in Paris. To him, writing for commercial Hollywood movies is not worth the same as literary fiction. Right here, is one of the major themes, and questions, of the movie. Are we ever satisfied with what we have, or the time we live in?
He dreams of living in the Paris of the 1920s and 1930s. A time when so many famous artists worked there. It’s that whole “Hemingway in Paris” thing which although it has become a cliche long ago, still holds a great fascination for anybody interested in the arts.
Gil is engaged to Inez (Rachel McAdams), the daughter of a wealthy business man. Her parents are also in Paris because her father is on a business trip. She, like her parents, do not actually like Paris itself. They do not like the artistic city, only its treasures. They are the opposite to Gil. Materialists who like the paintings and antiques, but not the streets, cafes, the French, or the Parisian way of life. Gil loves Paris in the rain, but Inez cannot understand what he sees in the city. Let alone walking in the rain.
The fantasy element occurs when Wilson’s character sits on some old steps in a cobblestone street. At midnight, a car from the 1920s rolls up and he is asked to climb aboard. The chauffeur driven car is full of famous artists of the period. They take him to nightclubs, cafes, bars, and to the house of Gertrude Stein.
He meets Hemingway, watches Josephine Baker dance, Gertrude Stein reads his novel, and chats to Salvador Dali, played brilliantly by Adrien Brody. Gil also meets Picasso and becomes attracted to his latest muse. Gil fully emerges into this dream world of the past.
However, this is only his dream. The way he wishes to see it. Picasso’s model does not think her time in the 1920s is the golden era of artistic Paris. To her, the Belle Epoque period of Degas, Lautrec and Monet is the golden era. Each person has their particular dream of a golden past. The point is, that it is never the present. The present is reality, and the past can be viewed anyway we like.
The movie questions the view that “everything used to be better”. Things used to be better in the past because we can imagine them the way we wish. We can select the elements we crave in the present. Today, in the here and now, we cannot be so selective. Today, we have to deal with the whole mess of life, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Midnight in Paris is a picture postcard artist’s dream of Paris. An intelligent, beautifully photographed feelgood movie. Most of it is simply a fun ride with plenty of the sharp one-liner wit we are accustomed to from Woody Allen. There are also a few philosophical themes worth considering. Gil figures these questions out for himself and discovers how he just might bring his fantasy into the present-day real world. I have to admit there’s a little bit of magic in this movie. I’d like to say more, but that would have to contain spoilers. So, watch it, or re-watch it, and see if it works for you.
Question: Do you have any particular ideal or dream of Paris or another city? Maybe your own golden era? Leave a comment below!