Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Midnight in Paris

Today is the last day of my month-long resolution to write a blog post everyday. Despite the discipline and effort required to abide by this resolution, it has been a very fulfilling experience. It gave me the opportunity to think and contemplate about different aspects of life. I am especially happy that it brought me into the habit of writing some non-academic stuff on a daily basis. Let's see how this habit unfolds over time.

Coming to today's post, the focus is to share my impressions of the Oscar nominated movie Midnight in Paris. I saw this movie over six months ago. So, I had to read through the plot summary on Wikipedia to refresh my memory of the movie. That does not mean that I had forgotten the movie, because it really was a delightful movie; the purpose of reading the plot summary was to relive the movie in my memory so that I could write intelligently about it.

I am a big fan of Woody Allen movies. He is probably the nerdiest filmmakers of Hollywood. Many people hate Woody Allen's work, because of its pessimistic and even misanthropic undertones. Although I don't deny that many of Allen's comedies highlight a pessimistic view of human beings, I like them because they provide a stark contrast to the typical goody-goody comedies that usually gets churned out of Hollywood. I love Allen's movies because they provide some interesting perspectives on human failings without making the movies dark horror shows.

Midnight in Paris is perhaps one of Allen's most optimistic movies. It's about a successful Hollywood screenwriter (played by Owen Wilson) but failed novelist who is visiting Paris with his fiancee to find inspiration for a new novel. His fiancee is more interested in his money than actually being in love with him or being committed to him. Wilson's character is a romantic at heart, and admires the rich cultural history of Paris. He is especially in awe of the literary scene that existed in 1920's Paris. His nostalgia for this period gets materialized when he gets transported to that era through a portal at the stroke of midnight, and meets the literary and artistic stalwarts of that era such as T. S. Eliot, Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, etc. The movie then provides for interesting interactions with these historical figures, and the kind of inspiration that Wilson's character draws from them. I think the ultimate message of Midnight in Paris is that we should not live in the past, despite all of its romantic allure, though we are free to take inspiration from it.

The biggest influence that Midnight in Paris had on me was to read up about Salvador Dali. He is considered one of the greatest surrealist artists, but the ignorant me had never heard of him. In the movie Midnight in Paris, the character of Salvador Dali (played by the super-talented Adrien Brody) was impossible to ignore because of how affable, gregarious and funny a personality he was. So, I ended up reading more about Salvador Dali. Dali turned out to be a really inspirational personality for me. I was impressed by some of the techniques that he employed to come up with the impossible surrealistic images that he painted. For example, one of his favorite techniques was to relax his body and go to sleep in his chair while holding a spoon in his hand. He always left a tin plate under his chair, so that when he drifted off to sleep the spoon would slip from his hand and fall on the tin making a loud noise and wake him up. Dali would then immediately paint the image that would be in his head when he woke up. This helped him capture the surreal images from his subconscious mind.

However, what I found most inspirational is the fact that Dali was an extremely shy individual as a youth. According to his biographer Ian Gibson, Dali was described as "morbidly" shy by his friends and colleagues from the art school that he went to. Dali was extremely fearful of social situations and preferred to spend his time in solitude. However, on advice from an uncle, he decided to pretend like he was extrovert. So, in virtually all his interactions with friends and strangers, he pretended as if he was the most extroverted person on the earth. The result of this exercise was that with time Dali, not only removed all traces of shyness from him, but began to be regarded as one of the most entertaining and gregarious personalities of his period. Who said you can't change your personality? All you have to do is pretend that you already are that personality you want to be, and behave accordingly.

Coming back to the movie Midnight in Paris, the issue of traveling back and forth through time may seem a little odd and confusing. However, that's not only fine but extremely beautiful. In the words of Dali, "You have to systematically create confusion; it sets creativity free. Everything that is contradictory creates life." I add, "Don't resent the confusion and chaos that you have in your life. First of all, everyone has them in one form or another. Second, (as Dali points out) they are the seeds of immense creativity. However, make sure you water those seeds regularly." And that's what I was doing through my month-long blogging resolution...letting the confusions and chaos of my life sprout into something creative and insightful.

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