Saturday, June 11, 2011

Midnight in Paris: Reliving the Past, Finding the Present

Image taken from here

Last night, I saw Woody Allen's latest movie, Midnight in Paris. I really enjoyed it.

First, a very brief synopsis of the plot. Owen Wilson plays Gil Pender, a successful but dissatisfied Hollywood screenwriter who is on vacation in Paris with his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) and his future in-laws. Gil is trying to write his first novel, and has this idealistic vision of Paris in the '20s as being the Golden Age, a time where everything was wonderful and great, and life was not so complicated. Both Inez and her parents ridicule Gil's idealism and his aspirations towards writing a great novel. For instance, Inez's parents (who are Tea Party Republicans) think that Gil has "a part missing" in his head.

While walking alone around midnight one night, Gil gets into a car with strangers, and finds himself mysteriously transported back to Paris in the 1920s. There he encounters many famous literary and artistic figures of that era (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dali, to name a few). His encounters and interactions with these figures help him to develop his novel and also to come to terms with certain issues in his personal life. Mysteriously, Gil would find himself transported back to present-day Paris at dawn. He would then have to go back to the same spot at midnight every night to get into the car that would transport him back to 1920s Paris. Because of this, Gil soon finds himself leading a double life in two different time periods, and becomes increasingly estranged from his family and friends in the present day, who think that he has "gone over the edge". I'll end my synopsis here, in order not to spoil the story for you :-) 

I really like Woody Allen's portrayal of 1920s Paris, especially his choice of actors to portray the various artistic and literary giants. Corey Stoll gives a powerful and convincing portrayal of Hemingway as a tough guy, a "man's man" who happens to be a great writer. And Adrien Brody's (only Woody Allen would have thought of such a choice of actor) portrayal of Salvador Dali really cracks me up!

Over the course of his time travels, Gil gains an important insight: In any time period, people always have a tendency to look back to and pine for a Golden Age. Gil idealizes the Paris of the '20s. But when he is in Paris during the 1920s, he meets a young woman, Adriana (played by the lovely Marion Cotillard) who idealizes the Paris of the 1890s as a Golden Age when everything was great, and life was not so complicated (which are, of course, the very reasons Gil idealizes 1920s Paris).

Which brings me to what I think is the central theme running through the movie: It is human nature to be nostalgic and to want to recreate a romanticized past, rather than accept the messy present and an uncertain future. Which, of course, is something that we grapple with everyday in the course of our lives on and off the mat.

I can go on and on about how this movie is quite yogic on many levels, but I don't want to come across as pedantic (you have to see the movie to know what I mean here ;-)). So I'll leave it at this. I highly recommend this movie.   


  1. OK, started reading but I can't, you got me interested on it now and I want to watch the movie first, will return when I do!!!! :-)

  2. Very nice, Claudia. Tell me what you think after you see it :-)

  3. I love this movie!! Owen Wilson did such a great job, I have a newfound respect for him, and yes, Brody's portrayal of Dali really cracked me up too ("Rhinoceros-es!") hahaha, I could watch it over and over again, it's really a keeper.

    I didn't pick up on the 'yogic' themes of the movie like you did, but agree with your assessment. To me, the film was about finding one's passion and daring to make the leap for it.

  4. Yes, savasanaaddict, I also think Owen Wilson was great in this movie; especially because he seems to be landing nothing but crappy roles in recent years. I hope this will turn things around for him.

    Yes, I think the movie is saying that once you discover your passion, it pulls you along like something from another world. And you just have to summon the faith, and go along for the ride.