This evening I went to see the new Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris. (No, not the homemade sex tape of Paris Hilton.) It starred all kinds of wonderful actors including Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams (a personal fave), and Michael Sheen who's in another upcoming movie I am dieing to see; Beautiful Boy. I may just end up spending my whole birthday weekend at the movies since I still haven't seen Bridesmaids OR Hangover 2! It seems every where I turn there's another movie coming out I want to see, and after missing Water For Elephants I am determined to catch as many as possible.
Anyhoozles, the movie - Midnight in Paris - centers around Wilson's character who seems to be stuck in the past. Not a past he has lived though, but rather a historical era that he idolizes. He fantasizes about 1920's Paris, all the artists and writers, the culture, the glamor etc. and somehow manages to be transported to this time period where he gets to rub elbows with the likes of Ernest Hemmingway, Cole Porter, and F. Scott Fitzgerald to name a few. During his time with all of these, now, wildly famous people he finds that they are just as disillusioned with their own era and generation as he is with his. He finds that their lives are not perfect and tidy but rather very messy and rambunctious.
When we have heroes that we look up to, or aspire to be, we place them in a realm of memory and nostalgia that cannot possibly be accurate. We look at past generations and think how amazing it must have been to be there when...(and fill in the blank) or how amazing it would have been to meet...(fill in the blank again). I find myself doing this too. I've had the amazing pleasure of working with a few people who danced for some of the greatest choreographers Broadway had ever seen. Namely Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins. And when people talk about these great geniuses of dance they use nicknames and share anecdotes with complete nonchalance. "Oh Bob would get so pissed at this...." "Jerry spent hours working that..." "I saw Bob throw a girl out of rehearsal for this." When I hear these stories I feel that same awestruck yearning to have been there when, to have just been in the room with those people.
But I think what the movie is trying to tell us is that no matter how much we think all the generations before us had it figured out, they were just as messy and screwed up as we claim to be now. The reason we ache for the past is because we are so unhappy, or bored, or terrified with our own present. It's a way of escaping the utter unknown of what's to come by looking back. Hindsight is 20/20 even when the memories are not yours, but those of your greatest idols and influences. I think it shows that no matter how much we look back at these people with feelings that they must have really had it all figured out, in reality they were probably just as scared, insecure, and scatterbrained as we are now in our own lives. We think about successful people and can't fathom they ever doubted themselves the way we all do everyday. Someone of that magnitude must have known all along they were great, that everything they wrote or created was brilliant. Not like now, not like us.
Maybe the movie serves as a way to humanize our idols. To remind us that no matter the time or place, everyone has these very real human fears about the present and our unknown future. Everyone wonders how their lives will pan out, and maybe we need to believe that generations prior had some magical cure to all their instability in order to get through our own. In order to believe somewhere down the road we'll find that magical cure for ourselves in this generation.