Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is “movie magic” at its finest. After a single viewing, one is infected with a sense of wonder and levity that whisks away the deadly seriousness of life. If Ortega y Gasset’s notion on good modern art redeeming man by, “restoring him to an unexpected boyishness” holds any weight at all, this movie knocks it out of the park.
In the film, Gill Pender (played by an endearing Owen Wilson) is a Hollywood screenwriter vacationing in Paris with his fiancée Inez (played with panache by Rachel McAdams), and her insatiably prudish parents. The two actors, who also worked together in Wedding Crashers (2005), clearly have chemistry. However the standout performance of the film belongs to Adrian Brody, whom probably appears for about five minutes of screen-time as Salvador Dalí. Nonetheless, it is the actors of this film that take a backseat to its real stars: the cinematography, direction, and script.
Cinematographer Darius Khondji creates beautiful images bathed in warm colors that radiate a magical glow. His simple compositions marry nicely with Allen’s effortless and straightforward direction. Indeed, when we see Gill transported into the past, there are no wild technological gimmicks – he merely gets into a carriage. Once he’s catapulted into the 1920’s, Gill finds himself hanging out with people like Picasso, Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Bunuel, and Gertrude Stein. At this point, anything could happen. And this is one of the best aspects of the film; it frees itself up to so many interesting possibilities and explores them with great ease. The sensation is somewhat akin to what one feels when watching Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo, which bears similarity to Midnight in Paris, but lacks its seamless quality.
Many critics view Midnight in Paris as a ‘return to form’ of sorts for Allen, whose rapid pace of movie-making (he churns out about a flick a year) causes many hit-or-miss scenarios. And though Midnight in Paris doesn’t necessarily seem like a picture that took Allen more time to create, its ideas and execution are stronger than many of his recent attempts. Consequently it succeeds in infecting audiences with its joyful spirit and lighthearted insight.
And, to be sure, the insight here isn’t merely: “Don’t romanticize the past!” If that were so, the film could have ended fifteen minutes in, with a characters remark on the foolishness of buying into the fallacy of “Golden Age thinking.” The real insight here is the fact that Gill knows this notion to be true, gets caught up in it anyways, and then really believes in its validity. The film thus reflects the essential relationship between knowledge and experience. It beautifully displays how true understanding will forever be linked to our subjective experiences in the world. In essence, it is only until after we have attempted something that we honestly have any sort of understanding of it.
Midnight in Paris offers a view of the world in the vein of an archetypal Romantic. Whilst watching, the audience perceives a rose-colored world wherein the past, present, and future intersect as they collide, split, and re-bond. Through celebrating rather than extolling the tensions created by time (ours and that of others) the film affirms the daily frustrations, fascinations, and self-perpetuated purgatories that arise in moments of reflection with who we are, who we were, and who we are likely to be.
Earlier today I found myself musing, “To think that in a world full of frivolous distractions i.e. computers, television, advertising, politics, newspapers, etc. To think that a film like Midnight in Paris exists!” It didn’t take me long to find the glaring contradiction in my thought; a film is a distraction – the best ones bring you back to life again.
written by: Daniel Bogran