Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thoughts on Midnight in Paris

Last night , my wife and I went to see the new Woody Allen movie "Midnight in Paris" starring Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams. We were very excited to see this film as Abby had traveled to Paris about a year and a half ago and we both studied English, particularly literature, in college. I especially love the authors Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the other ex-patriots living in Paris after World War I. For those who have not seen this film, Owen Wilson's character is an author touring Paris and at midnight, goes back in time and meets all of the authors he looked up to along with Gertrude Stein and the famous painters living in Paris such as Pablo Picasso.

Wilson's character, Gil, is searching for a voice in his writing. He is riddled with self-doubt, a conflict his snobby fiance and her parents only make worse. When he first meets Hemingway and Fitzgerald, he has a constant longing to go back the following night, to receive feedback for his own novel, and simply be free from the expectations set upon him so that he can live his own dream. Any further detail would spoil the movie, so for the rest of this piece, the focus will be on Gil's experience: meeting his heroes and receiving constructive criticism and advice from them.

For Gil, this was more than he could have dreamed. Throughout the movie, he comments on how he wishes he had lived in Paris during the 1920's so that he could have experienced Paris in its "Golden Age," or at least what he considered to be its Golden Age. This got me to thinking, what would we do if we were not only able to meet the people we idolize, but also talk with them, hang out with them, and listen to the advice they have to give us. Imagine being able to get in a car and go back to talk with the person you look up to the most from the past... what a thrill that would be! Here's the main question, though: why do we even want to? For example, Gil wanted to meet his heroes so that he could get criticism from them to improve his writing; why do we, like Gil, feel the desire to get advice or feedback from people we look up to the most or from those around us?

For example, when a new athlete is breaking into professional sports, he is awestruck by the older athletes he or she looked up to in their adolescence. They are often asked in interviews what is it like to play with or against their heroes. In a more applicable example, new teachers are EXPECTED to find a mentor teacher, someone who has been a teacher for years and is available to give advice and guidance. Most times, the new teacher will approach a teacher that impacted them throughout their own education, someone that they look up to. In both instances, the protege looks to the elder professional in order to improve their skills. More specifically, both look up to their heroes to help them.

What it all comes down to is hero worship. Every person in every profession has an ideal in their mind that is based off of someone who has impacted them in their professional pursuit. Even on a more relaxed, personal level, there are certain friends an individual wants respect or advice from over some other friends. This is not to say that these certain friends are closer or better than the others; on the contrary they may be the friends an individual communicates with the least. Instead, it means that there are just some friends that one desires to think highly of them, perhaps a friend that shares the same college major. In the constant drive for perfection, a person will always look to a person that they feel will best help them achieve it.

Is that not the point of having heroes? We have this desire to be perfect and we have an ideal to go along with it. When a person emerges who seems to fit this perfect mold, they tend to draw our respect and admiration. The human race is always in search of perfection in every aspect of life, even if it is not an aspect we are always actively involved in (most people have a favorite actor or actress even if they do not act themselves).

This all comes from mankind's fall from grace; Adam and Eve used to be perfect, but after the first sin they were sinful and we as their descendants are also sinful. Ever since then there has been this standard of perfection that humanity has wanted to meet but is incapable of doing so. In the Christian religion, we believe that we are made perfect through Christ. This does not stop us, though, from trying to achieve perfection on our own (even though it is impossible to do so) and we continue to look to other people who we feel are as perfect in a given aspect of life as possible.

This is portrayed perfectly in Midnight in Paris: Gil sees the flaws in Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds, but goes to them for advice anyway because he considers them perfect in a literary way. Many of our heroes today have personal flaws, but we tend to look past them to focus on the one or two aspects of their lives that we admire the most. To quote my friend Ian the Pontificator, "Long live hero worship."


  1. Very thought-provoking. Would you say that our heroes are the people we want to wish-fulfillment?

  2. Very rarely. I think that our heroes possess some traits we admire and want to live up to, but may have others that we do not want. For example, one may look up to an actor like Russel Crowe or Christian Bale because of their superior acting talents, but certainly not their life-style choices. For that reason, we have multiple heroes because we take bits and pieces from all of them to admire.