a film analysis by Nakshatra
Our protagonist Gil gets lost while strolling in a dim-lit city street one night, only to be saved by a 1928 Peugeot that drives up out of nowhere and takes him to an eight-decade-old old party in the past. If this setting alone is not inviting enough, Gil ends up dancing with Fitzgerald, venting to Dali, and sharing his novel with Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. As happened in The Purple Rose of Cairo, the only way to escape from an unsatisfactory reality is the dimension of the dream, and while in the 1985 film Mia Farrow took refuge in a suburban cinema to forget her miserable daily life, here Gil plunges into the magic of the Parisian golden age. Midnight in Paris is a lovely movie. It’s heartwarming, funny, and features Marion Cotillard!
But with its release being from over a decade ago, what is it that makes it memorable?
Well, I think there are three aspects to it:
their portrayal of comfort through art, the soundtrack, and romance.
I. The plot point of Gil traveling back in time ultimately stands for us not trying to escape time but just wanting to find Consolation. Art is difficult to define, yet most of us always tend to turn to a form of it. Midnight in Paris understands this, it focuses on our feeling of alienation from reality and our yearning for fulfillment. Setting the time jump in Paris, a city overflowing with art and literature, Midnight in Paris begins by outlining the route they would take in portraying nostalgia. Many films have done this before, what makes Midnight in Paris stick out is the joy they offer the viewers with the work they choose from the past. Particularly works from the ‘lost generation’ - a term coined by writers who impacted contemporary society with their writings that came out during the 1940s showing effects the first war had on most people.
Let's take Ernest Hemingway's introduction, for example, a man's man, who speaks as he writes, in assertive, tyrannical sentences that contrast quite hilariously with Gil's wavering tone. During his first scene, he asks Gil if he can box and he in his last scene is drunk, pleading for someone to fight him.
Then there was F Scott Fitzgerald's Tenderness, the film nevertheless does not get far beyond his bleak marriage to Zelda. Gil meeting them is one of the funniest scenes, not yet knowing he has time-traveled, he's baffled over the coincidence that a person named F Scott Fitzgerald also happens to have a wife named Zelda.
To Gil, each conversation he had with one of the notable artists was a form of consolation, whether it be speaking to Fitzgerald over broken relationships or to Hemmingway about his fear and vulnerability. We too, the viewers find a great amount of reflection in the conversations, like the table scene with photographer Man Ray, filmmaker Luis Buñuel and young Salvador Dalí every instance just makes you want to be a part of it more and more because ultimately all their art was to lighten a sense of disillusionment, a craving to return to a simpler past. Much like our protagonist Gil does and much as we do.
II. As it was also the golden era of jazz, the soundtrack they compiled played into the senses of the viewers as a staple of the film. So now, any exposure to early jazz or Parisian instrumentals is almost reminiscent of the feelings that we'd felt while watching. With catchy songs like (my personal favorite) Si Tu Vois ma Mère, the tone is set as charming and has the capacity of attracting a wider audience than Woody Alan’s regular target audience. The viewer only requires very basic knowledge of literature, architecture, cinema, and painting to catch the numerous nods to the art forms mentioned in the first half of the 19th Century. Midnight in Paris, unlike previous cases, does not demand a prior familiarization with all the artist's characteristic trademarks.
On the contrary, the simplicity of the intentions of Midnight in Paris was with a scope large enough to capture a city and its important artistic figures. It’s not a surprise this film works as well as it does; it’s goofy and pompous and sentimental to a fault, and I’m a total sucker for everything it’s about so it won me over pretty easily by the end. So, if anything setting the tone of the vintage city with the jazzy hits was primal to our memories.
III. The genre of romance is an open door! Midnight in Paris had the perfect balance between romance, poetry, and irony. The story is that of Owen Wilson, who is a writer of cheap scripts with a novelist's ambition, and during a stay in Paris with his fiancée - whom he does not really love - realizes that he can travel through time and finds himself magically transported to the Ville Lumière from the 1920s. But the romance in this film to me didn't feel like it was between the protagonist and the woman he meets in the past nor was it between him and the woman he meets later to the end, rather it felt like it was between the protagonist and time, which is such a beautiful concept.
I've always liked movies that defied our general perception of a 'romantic film', and Midnight in Paris did just that. It wasn't a love story between two people per se, it was more so a story of a writer learning to love where he was. Something I feel most of us don't, we tend to look at the past with those rose-tinted glasses that songs talk about, because let's face it we weren't any happier five years ago than we are now. It is wild how we've all convinced ourselves this with our little memories of delight. Midnight in Paris was just a surreal and bittersweet fairy tale where love is, once again, seemingly just the cure. Starting with the love that the director pours into portraying Paris, without ever relegating it to the cliché of the postcard! To the end, with the love, the protagonist meets after coming to terms with how the past must be admired rather than sought after. This obsessive desire for 'somewhere else' only averts us from seizing the prospects of a present time that - like any other era - can give us surprising spaces and urges for change.
It is up to only us to perpetuate ourselves to receive joy as it was to Gil.
“Adriana, if you stay here though, and this becomes your present then pretty soon you'll start imagining another time was really your... You know, was really the golden time. Yeah, that's what the present is. It's a little unsatisfying because life's a little unsatisfying.”
The ending is as whimsical as one would assume it to be, Gil decides to stay in his era and meet’s a woman with the same name as the woman he met in his 1920 endeavors. It's quite surreal even for Parisian culture and yet it still works. Midnight in Paris is a movie that needs to be watched lightheartedly, it’s a simple charming fairytale for literacy lovers.