I recently had what we call in French a “coup de cœur”[*] while watching Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.
Woody Allen was among my favorite film-makers when I was in my early twenties, a time when I was fascinated by the absurd and the work of such authors as Albert Camus. I eventually moved on to other ways of perceiving our reality and, incidentally or not, I lost interest in Woody Allen’s work, as well as Camus.
I started watching Midnight in Paris without knowing that it had been written and directed by Woody Allen, simply because the cast featured Owen Wilson, one of my favorite actors.
Released in 2011, Midnight in Paris is a romantic comedy and fantasy film. Exploring themes of nostalgia and modernism, it follows Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a successful but creatively unfulfilled Hollywood screenwriter sojourning in Paris with his very materialistic fiancée.
Gil is lead to confront the shortcomings of his relationship with his fiancée and their divergent goals, which become increasingly exaggerated as he travels back in time every night at midnight to Paris in the 1920s, his “golden age”.
While traveling the past, Pender falls under the spell of the “law of attraction” and is spontaneously drawn to Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who is also dreaming of her own golden age, the Paris of the Belle Époque in the 1890s.
In a scene that I found deeply touching, Gil and Adriana are seen walking on a dimly lit street of Paris in the Belle Époque, where Adriana decides to stay after meeting with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and Edgar Degas, who incidentally view their own golden era as the Renaissance.
Gil, upon observing that different people long for different “golden ages”, has an epiphany, and realizes that despite the allure of nostalgia, it is better to live in the present. And as he makes this decision, “fate” leads him back to Gabrielle, a young Parisian he had met earlier who is much more in tune with his true nature than his fiancee.
Interestingly, Gill stops slipping back into time when he makes a conscious decision to empower himself in the here and now, taking control of his predicament by following his hearth’s inclinations by remaining in Paris and letting his fiancee go back to California without him.
Musings About the Nature of Time
Midnight in Paris offers an apt illustration of our perception of time, which is akin to a stylus on an old record player – the stylus decoded the content of the record moving forward in a linear fashion from the point it touched the record, but the whole content of the record – past, present, and future – was always present in its totality, progressively revealed like the tip of an iceberg by the tip of the stylus. Such is our consciousness, which accesses eternity one fleeting instant at a time in the ever unfolding now…
“The only thing that is ultimately real about your journey is the step that you are taking at this moment… Your outer journey may contain a million steps; your inner journey only has one: the step you are taking right now… it already contains within itself all the other steps as well as the destination.”
― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
Time Crossed Lovers
I have always entertained a special fascination for the theme of star crossed lovers separated in time. If you are interested in exploring this theme, here is a short list of works you will find intriguing:
- The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegge, and film adaptation released in 2009
- Somewhere in Time, 1980 film adaptation of the 1975 novel Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson
- The City on the Edge of Forever, episode of the original Star Trek series where Captain Kirk falls deeply in love with Edith Keeler (Joan Collins) after entering a time portal that takes him back to Earth in the 1930s
- Timeshare book series by Josuah Dann
- The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells, of course, which was the object of several film adaptations
■ Henri Thibodeau
[*] The French expression “coup de cœur” is akin to love at first sight or a sudden infatuation, but it applies mainly to works of art – a painting, a book, a movie, etc.