Thursday, June 9, 2011

Midnight in Paris: Time and place in Woody Allen's newest film

By Eliza Rosenberry

Woody Allen movies are always very obviously Woody Allen movies.  Even as his films branched out from Diane Keaton love affair storylines (see Zelig and Vicky Cristina Barcelona for two of his most creative pieces), there are elements in each that make them definitively Woody Allen.

Although most of these commonalities are characterizations of the autobiographical protagonist (neuroticism, intellectualism, self-alienation), Allen also places a significant value on the location of his films.  Most of his earlier works take place in New York City.  In Annie Hall, Allen’s character notes that he is too East Coast-neurotic to live in California, thereby correlating mentalities to geographies.  Vicky Cristina Barcelona similarly relies on the exoticism and unfamiliarity of the city to create a foreign, dreamlike state of consciousness.  Midnight in Paris, Allen’s newest film, again toys with the notion of tourism but also develops a more complex relationship between the protagonist (a pitch-perfect Owen Wilson) and the city (Paris).

This protagonist actually wanders through the streets of Paris while traveling through time. Inadvertently, a disgruntled screenwriter finds himself among the greatest writers and artists of the early twentieth century.  Appearances are made by the Fitzgeralds, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Gertrude Stein, plus a bevy of other names, some familiar only if you’re as obsessed with the Roaring Twenties as the film is.  Midnight in Paris portrays a Parisian era—artsy, lusty, wild, creative—that would otherwise be unavailable to a contemporary American tourist.

In creating a time continuum, Allen challenges both the protagonist and the viewer to understand a more complex relationship between time, space, and identity.  Longing for a city of the past, which parallels (and perhaps subconsciously substitutes for) the protagonist’s desire for creative and romantic fulfillment, shows a linkage between place and person that has only been hinted at in Allen’s previous films.  To Allen, it seems that the place in which one actively participates, be it Paris in the 1920s, New York in 2011, or (God forbid) a non-urban locale, seems to shape expectations, traits, and desires in an extraordinarily direct and definitive way.  Although Midnight In Paris’s characters interact with each other on the surface, it does seem that they are fundamentally engaging with the city itself.

Oh, right: the film is really a lot of fun and definitely worth seeing, particularly if you’re a fan of Woody’s older movies but maybe think Scoop wasn’t so hot.

Midnight in Paris: B+

Talk to me about this movie, or anything: @eliza rosenberry,

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