Director: Woody Allen
Screenwriter: Woody Allen
Length: 1h 40m
Synopsis: Gil (Wilson) and his fiancé Inez (McAdams) are vacationing in Paris, France, soaking up the atmosphere and taking in all of the beautiful art that surrounds them. Gil is a Hollywood screenwriter trying to take another crack at writing novels, and his latest work about relishing the past has gotten some much-needed inspiration from the city of love. While Inez spends her time enjoying luxurious spa days and get-togethers with friends Gil wishes to experience all of the charm the city has to offer, and he finds all he can handle when he stumbles upon a way to travel back in time to the 1920s. Every night at midnight he visits iconic artists like F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), and Salvador Dali (Brody), chatting away with them about love, life, and women. And speaking of women, one night Gil can’t help but be enchanted by an art aficionada named Adrianna (Cotillard), who is equally enchanted by him. The stress of the present and magic of the past combine to create an awkward but exciting situation for Gil, one which he will find his way out of only if he follows his heart.
Analysis: Like any other cinematic auteur Woody Allen has his staples, and many of them are predictably part of Midnight in Paris. The couple that’s in denial about the state of their relationship, the pseudo-intellectual friend who needs to be right all the time, the protagonist who is unhappy about his life’s accomplishments, the camera’s unmistakable affection for the city landscape (mind you this is the first Allen movie to take place entirely in Paris), all of these can be found in this newest film. However, the presence of such trademarks hardly keeps much of the story from being refreshing and new. To be frank, it reminds one more of Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile than anything Allen has done before. As such, diatribes about love are not the order of the day. They are instead replaced with discourse about what makes art great and what it is that an artist must know. The struggle to find one’s place in the world continues, but the world in question is not the big blue ball in its entirety. Rather, it is the world of art and its purposes. Such a “world,” as we discover, is actually labeled better as an era in the ever-continuing timeline of art history, but unfortunately these periods are only made sensible when looked at in retrospect. The lack of perception artists have when living in their own eras is perhaps the biggest frustration that each of the ones we meet have in common, which includes the quirky, insecure Gil. What is suggested by the end, albeit with limited conviction, is that a good artist learns to deal with this frustration, focusing instead on the creation of his art and not about whether that art is somehow connected to something bigger.
On a somewhat different note, one of the more significant messages of the film is curiously downplayed; so much so in fact that while it is not necessarily inconspicuous it is indeed glossed over without much contemplation or scrutiny. It is declared as matter of fact, with no contentious proposals to challenge it. That message is, in short, that life needs fantasy; Logic and realism are only bearable when intermingled with fictitious apparatuses. The nature of the overall story, without this message, might have suggested that magic is very much a part of life and we need only to look in the right places to find it, but with this message included we can recognize a more assertive point of view which proclaims, with slightly more heft, that one’s sense of fulfillment is only attainable if he experiences such enchanted happenings as what would allow him to reach a previously unknown level of intimacy with himself as well as who and what surrounds him. That such a point of view is represented as truthful beyond question isn’t necessarily bad, though such a level of certainty arguably allows us to make certain speculations about the director.
The most barefaced theme that lies only just beneath the film’s surface until it finally becomes so well defended that it is verbalized outright is the following: there is no such thing as a “golden age.” This pronouncement is the film’s main thesis, as what seems to have prompted Gil’s self-disenfranchisement is his burgeoning reverence toward the heralded icons of yesteryear. However, when Gil travels back in time and speaks to some of those icons (which span several generations) he discovers that most of them were very similar to him in this regard. They too doubted whether their achievements could have the cultural permanence that their influences’ had. But more than that, they so venerated these influences that they were convinced that such a period in time as when they achieved their greatest successes was the best time to have been living in general. The notion of a “golden age” is revealed to be a fallacy, as although Gil may in the end still relish the romanticism of the past he has at least become aware that he does so partially because it is the past. And the realization that we and Gil ultimately have is that we are sometimes quicker to overvalue the past because of the uncertainty we have for the present, whether with regards to personal accomplishments or social progress in general. What leads Gil and us to being encouraged is the fact that although we may have doubts about ourselves and the present, people like Hemingway, Picasso, Fitzgerald, and the like also felt the same way and were still able to achieve greatness.