Thursday, June 28, 2012

Beyond Nostalgia with Midnight in Paris

on pop theology, philosophy, theology, culture, pop culture, christianity
by Ben Howard

Hey everybody!  Today I'm going to post some quick thoughts about Midnight in Paris from our Movie Discussion Night two weeks ago, but first a little business.

Tonight at 7 pm, we'll be watching 50/50 at St. B's in the Youth Room.  It should be cool, so I hope to see you there.

Also, in addition to writing/posting your own work, if you have any suggestions for something you'd like me to write about, please pass them along.  I'm always looking for ideas and material that might bring up something interesting.  You can email, leave a comment, or contact me on Twitter @BenHoward87.  Thanks!

Without question Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris bathes in a continual fount of nostalgia, but it ultimately finds its heart by deconstructing the desire to return to a so-called “Golden Era” and finding peace in the present.  The film’s protagonist, Gil, spends much of the movie in a overly-romanticized haze.  When he finds himself transported back to 1920s Paris, the Paris of his dreams, he becomes deeply immersed in the culture, mesmerized by reality of his dream.  In most movies, Gil would come to realize that the 1920s are not as amazing as he dreamed, and would then find happiness in his own time period by overcoming his nostalgia, but I like Allen’s take here.  Instead of Gil becoming disillusioned, he encounters his 1920s proxy in the form of Adriana.  Adriana possesses the same romanticism as Gil, but for a different time period.  From this experience, Gil is able to come to the realization that though the present isn’t perfect, it can still be magical and romantic.  He does not disavow his romantic worldview, he simply embraces a dynamic view of perfection.

I think this has a lot of parallels for Christianity.  Churches and individuals so often search vainly in pursuit of some romanticized idea of perfection and grow more and more disillusioned with the present as they go.  I’ve often taken the cynical tack of saying that the mythologized ideal never really existed and those in search of it should get over their Platonic nostalgia, but I like Woody Allen’s take more.  Perhaps that world did exist, perhaps it was perfect, but why can’t the present be perfect too, but in a different way.  Why does perfection and beauty and transcendence have to look the same then, now and in the future?  This ability to both embrace and move beyond nostalgia allows for a deeply dynamic view of the world which allows for the present to become just as magical as the past if we only free ourselves to embrace it for what it can be.

-Ernest Hemingway.  I don’t think I have the mental capacity to get into what this character says about courage and morality and all sorts of other subjects.  Needless to say if you watch the movie, you will love him.

-Expertise.  Michael Sheen’s character is this movie is lovely caricature of the guy everyone loves to hate.  He plays a know-it-all academic who may be making up some of his expertise to save face.  Definite connections to the church where we all too often come up with answers to questions that rightly deserve an “I don’t know.”

-Two favorite lines, worth some reflection: “The artist's job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.” and “That's what the present is. It's a little unsatisfying because life is unsatisfying.”  Both are perhaps a little more despairing than a Christian worldview, yet both speak to a certain existential crisis within most if not all of us.


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