MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
SUBJECTS — Literature/U.S.; Visual Arts; Music; World/France;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Romantic Relationships; Breaking Out;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Caring.
AGE: 14+; MPAA Rating; PG-13;
2011; 94 Minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
Hollywood screenwriter, Gil Pender, is trying to write a novel of literary significance. Vacationing in Paris with his fiancé and future in-laws, he is overwhelmed by nostalgia for the period of the Lost Generation, the 1920s, when brilliant American writers and visual artists from all over Europe lived and worked in Paris. While taking a midnight stroll Gil is magically transported to the 1920s where he meets Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salvador Dali and other famous writers and artists of the period. Through these encounters, Gil learns that he needs to change the course of his life and that although he must live in the present, he can shape his life according to the values that had drawn him into the past.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Selected Awards: 2012 Academy Awards: Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay; 2012 Golden Globe Awards: Best Screenplay; 2012 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Picture, Best Direction, and Best Art Direction; 2012 Golden Globe Awards Nominations: Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical, Best Director – Motion Picture (Woody Allen), Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical (Owen Wilson).
Featured Actors: Owen Wilson as Gil, Rachel McAdams as Inez, Kurt Fuller as John, Mimi Kennedy as Helen, Michael Sheen as Paul, Marion Cotillard as Adriana, and Nina Arianda as Carol.
Director: Woody Allen.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
This film can provide benefits on at least three levels. It allows students to visualize famous writers and artists who worked in Paris during the 1920s. The story itself is valuable, raising the issue of how best to use the past. It can also serve to acquaint students with the City of Paris, one of the great cities of the world.
USING IN THE CLASSROOM
The more that students know about the city of Paris and the Lost Generation, the more interest they will have in the movie. There are several ways to provide this information. If time allows, students can be asked to give short presentations to the class about Paris, the Lost Generation, and some of the writers, artists and other persons of note who are shown in the film. The presentations of the visual artists should show examples of their work. In the alternative, this information can be provided through a lecture. The assignment for students (which also provides a list of topics for the lecture) is set out below:
For Internet research, select one of the many writers, artists or topics referred to in the film. Create a presentation for your classmates in which you give biographical information and describe their work. For visual artists provide examples of their work. Your presentation should be no more than five minutes long.
- A brief history of the City of Paris concentrating on its role as a center for the arts
- The Lost Generation of American writers who lived in Paris in the 1920s
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Zelda Fitzgerald
- Ernest Hemingway (with a focus on Hemingway Dialog Selections)
- Djuna Barnes
- Gertrude Stein
- Pablo Picasso
- Jean Cocteau
- T.S. Eliot
- Luis Bunuel
- Salvador Dali
- Man Ray
- Cole Porter
- Auguste Rodin
- La Bélle Epoque
- Toulouse Lautrec
- Edgar Degas
- Paul Gauguin – be sure to include his trips to Tahiti
1. What is the difference between the world that Gil Pender inhabits in the present and the world that he sees in his midnight travels back in time? How does this relate to the theme of the movie?
There are many ways to describe the problems with the present: the people Gil is with are shallow; the world is all glitzy style and no substance; there is no passion to the world in which Gil lives. In the 1920s, Gil sees action, passion and a total devotion to art. He sees a period of time when creating was more important than selling. Students may note specific inspirational characters that he meets in these moments of magical realism. As to theme, Gil eventually realizes that he has no choice but to be in the present and that he must embrace the future, using inspiration and lessons from the past as they apply.
2. Nostalgia is a sentimental longing for the past. In this film Gil Pender is nostalgic for the Paris of the 1920s. Paul, the man who sleeps with Gil’s fiancé, is also quite knowledgeable about the past. Gil calls Paul a pedantic pseudo-intellectual. Paul, obviously with Gil in mind, has the following to say about nostalgia.
PAUL: You know, nostalgia is denial. Denial of the painful present.
INEZ: Oh, Gil is a complete romantic. He would be more than happy living in a complete state of perpetual denial.
PAUL: And the name of this fallacy is called “golden-aged thinking.”
PAUL: The erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in. It’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.
By the end of the movie, Gil’s view of the 1920s has changed to some extent. He talks about a dream that he lived in the past when there were no antibiotics, dishwashers, or 911. What is the scriptwriter trying to tell us about the uses of the past.
Paul uses his knowledge about the past to impress people, but he has no passion for it and he does not really learn anything that is important to his life. Like Inez and her parents, Paul is shallow. Gil has a great passion for the past throughout the movie but by the end of the story he realizes that we must live in the present and that the proper use of the past is to take the lessons that it provides and use them to help us live well. The symbol for Gil using the knowledge of the past and putting it to good use in the present is that Gertrude Stein reads and comments on his book. Ms. Stein was famous for performing this function for writers of the Lost Generation.
3. The Gertrude Stein character says, “It’s the artist’s job not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote to the emptiness of existence.” Gil Pender says that “[I]t’s my job as a writer to try and come up with reasons why despite life being tragic and unsatisfying, it’s still worth it.” Steve Chbosky, author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower describes art as a love song from the artist to the audience/reader. For him, the artist describes shared life experiences and feelings, which establishes a sense of community between people. He states that when he is able to do that, he feels infinite.1 There have been thousands of different ways that artists have described what they do. What do you think is the role of an artist? Explain your reasons.
There is no one correct response, the purpose of this question is to get students to think about the issue. Some students might say that the purpose of art is to express the beauty of existence; others might say that it is to provide new, interesting and/or beautiful interpretations of existence. Teachers might note the pessimism of both the statement by Pender and the statement by the Gertrude Stein character. This probably relates to the sense of despair after the First World War. Chbosky’s idea is more optimistic.
4. William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” In what sense is this statement true and in what sense is it not true? Explain your reasoning.
This is no one correct response. A good response would point out that it is true because what has happened in the past does affect the present and the future. It’s true because many people live as if it were the past, fewer today than in prior times, but that still occurs. It is true because those who do not know the history of the past are condemned to repeat it. It is not true in the sense that the past is completed, can never be changed, nor can it return. It only influences the present or the future in ways that we permit that to occur.
5. What factors in Gil’s present life make him feel dissatisfied and drawn to the Paris of the 1920s?
There is no one correct response because there is a lot about the present that Gil finds dissatisfying. Gil is engaged to a superficial young woman whose parents are materialistic and who oppose his political viewpoint; his associates are pedantic and boring; he is a rich man who has earned his wealth by selling out his craft and writing for money rather than for art; he is having difficulty writing a novel and had failed in an earlier attempt.
6. What seems to be so attractive about the life Gil sees in Paris when he travels backward in time?
Gil sees action, passion and total devotion to art. He sees a period of time when creating was more important than selling. Students may note specific inspirational characters that he meets in these moments of magical realism.
7. Why does Adriana, with Gil in tow, arrive in La Belle Epoque of the 1890s when she travels back in time? It’s the same reason that the detective found himself in the 18th century.
Those are the years that they think are France’s golden age.
8. Adriana asks Gil: “Surely you don’t think the 20s are a golden age?” Gil responds, “To me they are.” What does this tell you?
That nostalgia is subjective and the perfect age of the past will be different for different people.
(1) At the end of the commentary to the movie version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower Mr. Chbosky discussed what writing the book and making the movie meant to him. The following is a paraphrase of what he said:
People tell say to me “It’s like you understood what I felt.” You know what’s beautiful, if I understand how you feel it means that you understood how I feel. In the whole exchange, it’s not important that I wrote it and you read it. It’s not important if we [the cast and crew for the movie] made [the movie] and you watched it. What’s important is that we have that thing in common, that thing that we understand. . . . At the end of the day we did this piece of art for you to see it. When hundreds of people get together to do one thing and it means something and that something comes back to you, that perfect circle of past, present and future, . . . at the end of the day, that is the thing that in making The Perks of Being a Wallflower that made me feel infinite. This movie is my love song to you. . . .
1. What factors lead Gil to break off the wedding plans and move to Paris?
Gil and Inez are ill-suited for one another. She is superficial and has no real passion; Gil, on the other hand, has a passion for his writing and his love for the great writers who lived in Paris in the 1920s.
1. What were some of the factors that let Gil get into the position that he was in at the beginning of the movie, that is, pursuing a profession he found to be dissatisfying and about to marry a woman with whom he had little in common?
There are a number of possibilities. A few of them are low self-esteem; past failures; being blinded by Inez’ beauty and attractiveness; being entranced with the glitz of Hollywood.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
See question under Romantic Relationships.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
1. If the students were not asked to make presentations on the topics listed in the Introduction section, they can be asked to make those presentations at the end of the movie. In the alternative, they can be assigned to research the various topics or people and write an essay about them.
2. Thematically, the film is about distaste for the age in which we live and a desire to return to a better time. Write an analysis of this conflict, which is universal in modern cultures, as it is seen in the characters of Gil Pender and Adriana, Picasso’s lover. What inspires these conflicts and how are they resolved.
3. Have students create a poster with views of the City of Paris.
4. Gather snippets from YouTube and various readily available sources on the Internet and compile a brief look at Woody Allen as seen in some of his films and interviews. Present your project, along with a brief biography, to the class for comparison to the characterization of Allen as seen in the acting of Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris. Lead a class discussion on the topic.