I watched this Woody Allen film last night, Midnight in Paris.
Like another film of his I recently saw, Cafe Society, it luxuriates in nostalgia.
From the often overpowering jazz soundtrack, to the rich colours and cross transitions.
In a nutshell (spoiler alert) the main protagonist, a writer played by Owen Wilson, is in a loveless marriage to a spoilt, Ivy League American girl. They are visiting Paris with her awful parents. He romanticises the past and wishes he was alive in 1920s Paris. One evening when his wife chooses to party with a pseudo-intellectual creep, he finds himself walking the Paris streets alone. Miraculously a car pulls up and transports him to 1920s Paris. He meets Cole Porter, Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso, Dali, Gertrude Stein – basically all the glitterati of 1920s Paris that he so reveres. He falls in love with an outrageously beautiful Marillon Cotillard (probably the main reason I’m writing this blog post), but struggles to gauge whether he is actually cheating or not in the present world. Their generational separation is temporarily assuaged when they both travel further back in time to the Belle Epoque Era of 1890s Paris – Lautrec, Degas, Gauguin etc – which she romanticises as a far better world than her 1920s, her version of the ‘Golden Generation TM’. She vents the same frustrations with the 1920s and Owen Wilson does with the 2010s. The main moral point that Woody Allen eventually arrives at occurs when Marillon chooses to stay in the Belle Epoque Era, and Owen and her have to part ways. Despite his romantic interest in the divine Mariilon, he realises that rather than look back he wants to be in the present and look to the future. So he dumps his wife and fortunately a present-day Léa Seydoux is waiting for him on a bridge, and they walk off in the Parisian rain.
I actually really enjoyed the film. Its easy, naive, tone means it doesn’t require an explanation for time travel, it just happens and you enjoy what unravels.
It’s strange to think that people will one day reflect on the current day as part of a ‘Golden Generation’. In a few decades’ time people will find it quaint that we drove our own cars, that we were ever disconnected from an augmented layer of reality. That we had affairs with real people, that we didn’t know the date and time when we’d die. Replace Hemingway with Zuckerberg, Dali with Elon Musk, Picasso with Messi.
But the truth is, if asked, I will probably perpetuate my grandchildrens’ nostalgic vision of my early years and, whilst recalling, look into the distance like a wise mystic peering into the hills.
Why do we do this?
Nostalgia was in fact considered a disease in the Victorian times, as it interfered so much with productivity.
I don’t especially love nostalgia. I do love my sleep though, and once in a while it is totally disrupted (normally in the wee hours of the morning) by thinking of small moments in time from my past. I try and recreate exact scenarios with different protagonists, imagine that feeling of being there, almost in an age of innocence. The beauty of that moment in time, now lost. All the different directions we’ve gone since there. And I always leave myself behind there, in that still, transient space. The feeling of disconnection and loneliness keeps me awake and makes we want to embrace the here and now.