What ‘Midnight in Paris’ Tells Us About Nostalgia

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Credit: © SONY PICTURES CLASSICS

What ‘Midnight in Paris’ Tells Us About Nostalgia

Spoiler Alert: This story containsِ plot details fromِ the film Midnight inِ Paris, including itsِ ending.
In theِ Oscar-nominated film Midnight inِ Paris, theِ main character, Gil, doesn’tِ just daydream aboutِ escaping theِ unsatisfying present toِ Paris inِ the 1920s — hisِ place andِ time ofِ choice.
It wasِ Gil’s journey throughِ theِ pastِ that helped himِ identify whatِ wasِ missing inِ hisِ present andِ that gave himِ the courage toِ takeِ steps toِ correct it, saidِ Krystine Batcho, a professor ofِ psychology atِ Le Moyne College inِ New York whoِ studies nostalgia.

Historical vs. personal

In the film, Gil appears to experience two distinct kinds of nostalgia, according to Batcho.

Gil’s relationship withِ 1920s Paris represents historical nostalgia, orِ a yearning forِ a time inِ the past, whichِ heِ hasn’tِ actuallyِ experienced.
It contrasts withِ personal nostalgia, whichِ isِ tied toِ one’sِ memories.
  Research indicatesِ personal nostalgia mayِ offer benefits, helping people maintain a constant sense ofِ identity throughِ changesِ andِ traumatic experiences.

Out of the past

The character Gil doesِ not, Batcho said.
Gil doesِ find hisِ way backِ andِ that isِ what makesِ the film soِ special.
Gil’s ownِ personal nostalgia isِ rooted inِ hisِ past success asِ a screenwriter andِ his oldِ dreams ofِ becomingِ a great writer, likeِ those heِ meets inِ the 1920s, including Ernest Hemingway andِ Gertrude Stein.

These thoughts keep Gil from becoming lost in the past, according to Batcho.

He comesِ aroundِ to sayingِ ‘Maybe I couldِ still write thatِ great novel’.
He isِ still tryingِ toِ chase afterِ some ofِ those oldِ dreams, Batcho said.
Those oldِ dreams, becauseِ he wasِ busy beingِ successful inِ Hollywood, areِ part ofِ hisِ nostalgia forِ his personal past.

Moving forward

Jennifer Yalof, a doctoral student inِ clinical psychology atِ the Massachusetts School ofِ Professional Psychology, whoِ hasِ examined theِ psychological dimensions ofِ Allen’s films, sees Gil’s journey asِ a repudiation ofِ nostalgia, sinceِ heِ ultimate rejects theِ pastِ forِ the present.
But likeِ Batcho, sheِ sees Gil’s journeys backِ in time asِ crucial toِ hisِ progress.
… He usedِ theِ fantasy ofِ goingِ backِ in time toِ gain thatِ strength toِ beِ able toِ function inِ the present, saidِ Yalof, whoِ isِ alsoِ interning withِ MIT Medical’s Mental Health andِ Counseling Service.

Realizations

Nostalgia canِ beِ interpreted asِ a type ofِ fantasy, andِ fantasy isِ generally thought ofِ asِ a defense mechanism thatِ allows someoneِ to lose themselvesِ andِ block outِ the bad, according toِ Yalof.
The story culminates whenِ Gil ends hisِ fantasy byِ acknowledging theِ pastِ was notِ allِ golden andِ the future isn’tِ so bad.
During a conversation withِ hisِ love interest Adriana inِ Belle Époque Paris, Gil recounts a dream thatِ prompted himِ to realize thereِ were noِ antibiotics inِ the past.

Escapism

Yalof points outِ that people turn toِ theِ pastِ to escape inِ many ways — fromِ participating inِ historical re-enactments, toِ attending Renaissance fairs orِ evenِ reading books, suchِ asِ Jane Eyre orِ Wuthering Heights, depicting bygone eras.
I believeِ these opportunities toِ ‘escape’ intoِ a historical era hold a differentِ appeal toِ differentِ individuals, Yalof told LiveScience inِ anِ email.
Other movies Allen hasِ made, including Manhattan andِ Radio Days, employ nostalgia asِ a theme, butِ Allen tempers theِ romanticism withِ a realization thatِ the good oldِ days weren’tِ alwaysِ so good, sheِ said..