The past is something we all think about. Whether it is reminiscing about simpler times or reliving a moment, it is easy to become immersed in memories.
Director Woody Allen’s 2011 film “Midnight in Paris” sends a relatable message to anyone that has experienced nostalgia. While this is not a current film, its morals and themes still ring true today. (This article contains spoilers to the plot of “Midnight in Paris”.)
This romantic comedy features protagonist Gil Pender, (Owen Wilson) who lives a frustrating life. Although he is a successful Hollywood screenwriter, he aspires to be a novelist. During a vacation in Paris with his materialistic fiancee, Inez, and her parents, he falls in love with the charming city. At the stroke of midnight, Gil encounters a peculiar 1920’s car, and he gets in.
The car inexplicably slides through time and when Gil steps out, he is surrounded by the Paris of 1920: Flappers, jazz, and artists galore. He meets Picasso’s dazzling mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard) and returns to the ’20s every night to explore the wonders of Paris by night.
One night, Adriana and Gil ride a horse-drawn coach and unexpectedly goes back in time again, this time in Paris during 1870-1910, the time of La Belle Epoque. They meet Paul Gaugin and Edgar Degas and to the dismay of Gil and Adriana, they argue that the Renaissance was the true Golden Age.
Undeterred, Adriana tells Gil that she wants to stay in La Belle Epoque, what she considers Paris’ Golden Age. Gil then has an epiphany and realizes that even if Adriana stays in La Belle Epoque, she will soon start to imagine another time was the Golden Age.
“But that’s what the present is, it’s a little unsatisfying because life’s a little unsatisfying!” he proclaims.
However, Adriana stays in La Belle Epoque and Gil returns to the present, breaks off his unhappy engagement with Inez, and decides to move to Paris to continue writing.
The outstanding cinematography aids in sharply contrasting Paris in the 2010s by day, and Paris in the 1920s by night. While the 2010s is noisy, too bright, and bustling with people and traffic, everything in the ’20s is dimly lit, with the subjects having a soft, elegant glow to them.
Juxtaposing the stark present and the gorgeous ’20s helps the audience understand how Gil feels about the two time periods. This also leads to a turning point in the plot when it is revealed that he and Adriana will part and Gil will stay in his present time.
The central theme of this movie is how living in the past can deter one from fully experiencing the present and all that it has to offer. This is shown in Gil’s longing for the ’20s, Adriana’s dream of living in La Belle Epoque, and even Gaugin and Degas’ opinion of the Renaissance.
Gil is the first of them to realize that the present isn’t all bad and that a “golden age” is not always perfect, and he makes a major life decision based on this realization. Although we do not know what happened to Adriana after she stayed in La Belle Epoque, we do know that Gil was able to get on the right road to making his life better, while staying in his own present time. I found this to be a very impactful message because I think living in the past can be very easy to do, but it may not always be good.
Perhaps you consider a certain time in your past “the good old days.” Perhaps everything seemed simpler back then and you were happier, without a care in the world.
While that may be true for some, it is probable that those “good old days” were nowhere near perfect. High schoolers may look back to their elementary school-age, their age of innocence, and sigh with wistfulness.
People in their 20’s or 30’s may reminisce about their college days as the prime of their life, not remembering the stress that studying and college life may have brought. Taking a trip down memory lane once in a while is not a bad thing at all, but perpetually living in selective memory may make the present time seem so much worse than it actually is.
Perhaps your life is a bit more complicated now, but hard times and conflicts are everywhere, so in my opinion, the best thing to do is find the good parts of the present, and strive to solve those conflicts one by one.
Seeing Gil Pender realize this during his epiphany changed the way I thought about the past as well. In the midst of the hectic high school life, it becomes increasingly difficult to find the good parts of life, and I often find myself wishing I could go back to a simpler time.
If you ever find yourself in a time of gloom, take a minute to think about the ways your life has changed for the better. It has helped me get through stressful times easier, and hopefully, it will help you too.