My wife Amanda and I saw Midnight In Paris last night.
The film follows an aspiring—but downtrodden—novelist named Gil throughout the streets of La Ville-Lumière while he tries to find his mojo. Like almost any wannabe artist’s fairy tale, when the clock strikes 12 he is thrown back into Paris circa 1920. A chance to escape his unsupportive fiancée and hang out with the likes of Earnest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salvador Dali, and Picasso at the height of “the golden age”—or so he calls it.
Of course no one believes him. He’s lost his mind. “The clock strikes 12, and you go where?” Right. Of course. (Get the man a doctor?)
And while the disbelief is warranted¹, I think every artist is prone to think, act, and create this way. Because what do we have other than hope? What do we have other than to try and push away the harsh realities of the present, and try and see a better future—even if what’s “better” happens to come from the past?
I’m certainly guilty of it.
The difference, though, comes from those who decide that, even if the past “got it all right,” the answer isn’t to go back, or to freeze in fear of the present, it’s to move forward.
There’s a scene in the film where Gil is talking to his fairy tale lover, Adriana, on some steps overlooking the water, and he makes a remark about how the lights of Paris can be seen from space². About how a great city is the greatest piece of art known to man.
And I would agree.
Think about the time it takes to build a city, the attention to detail. Literally building on the past, in the present, for a better future.
But that’s what we do. We build cities in our heads. And those frame the way we see the world and the art that we create.
So the question isn’t whether you’re building one or not. You are.
The question is whether or not you’re building one that’s bright enough.
¹ Surely, I’d commit anybody who told me they were “hanging with Hemingway” last night, and they were serious about it.
² Of course, this is 1920 and she thinks he’s being poetic because, well, you know, who the hell goes to space in 1920?