The Characters referenced in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” (Part 21,Versailles and the French Revolution)

In Woody Allen’s movie “Midnight in Paris” Gil and his friends take a tour of Versailles (pictured below). In a comical scene from that movie the detective that is following Gil finds himself at Versailles back at the time of the French Revolution and he intrudes in on the king and queen of France. Then he runs for his life because the king sends the guards after him with the instruction “Off with his head.”

What actually happened in the French Revolution? Did you know that Robespierre, who was the leader of the French Revolution, was himself executed? He was held in the same containment chamber where Marie Antoinette, the wife of King Louis XVI, had been held.  On July 28, 1794, Robespierre was guillotined without trial in the Place de la Révolution. Why did the French Revolution include 40,000 executed – many of them peasants? It could be traced back to philosophical origins of the French Revolution and the rejection of what Francis Schaeffer calls the Reformation base.

Robespierre was a follower of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and Rousseau advocated the idea of autonomous freedom: that “man was born free,” but that “everywhere he is in chains.” What man must do, therefore, is to throw off the fetters of culture and religion. Therefore, there was no Reformation base (which the Bible gives) to make moral judgements concerning society. Schaeffer notes, “If there is no moral absolute by which to judge society, then society is absolute.” One is only left with what is, and as Marquis de Sade recognized, this leads to the conclusion that what is is right (cruelty to women for instance according to Marquis de Sade).


I am a big Woody Allen movie fan and no other movie better demonstrates man’s need for God more  than Allen’s 1989 film  Crimes and Misdemeanors. This film also brought up the view that Hitler believed that “might made right.” How can an atheist argue against that?  Basically Woody Allen is attacking the weaknesses in his own agnostic point of view!! Take a look at the video clip below when he says in the absence of God, man has to do the right thing. What chance is there that will happen?

Crimes and Misdemeanors is  about a eye doctor who hires a killer to murder his mistress because she continually threatens to blow the whistle on his past questionable, probably illegal, business activities. Afterward he is haunted by guilt. His Jewish father had taught him that God sees all and will surely punish the evildoer.

But the doctor’s crime is never discovered. Later in the film, Judah reflects on the conversation his father had with Judah’s unbelieving Aunt May during a Jewish Sedar dinner  many years ago:

“Come on Sol, open your eyes. Six million Jews burned to death by the Nazi’s, and they got away with it because might makes right,” says Aunt May.

Sol replies, “May, how did they get away with it?”

Judah asks, “If a man kills, then what?”

Sol responds to his son, “Then in one way or another he will be punished.”

Aunt May comments, “I say if he can do it and get away with it and he chooses not to be bothered by the ethics, then he is home free.”

Judah’s final conclusion was that might did make right. He observed that one day, because of this conclusion, he woke up and the cloud of guilt was gone. He was, as his aunt said, “home free.”

The basic question Woody Allen is presenting to his own agnostic humanistic worldview is: If you really believe there is no God there to punish you in an afterlife, then why not murder if you can get away with it?  The secular humanist worldview that modern man has adopted does not work in the real world that God has created. God “has planted eternity in the human heart…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). This is a direct result of our God-given conscience. The apostle Paul said it best in Romans 1:19, “For that which is known about God is evident to them and made plain in their inner consciousness, because God  has shown it to them” (Amplified Version).

Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen – 1989) – Final scenes

It’s no wonder, then, that one of Allen’s fellow humanists would comment, “Certain moral truths — such as do not kill, do not steal, and do not lie — do have a special status of being not just ‘mere opinion’ but bulwarks of humanitarian action. I have no intention of saying, ‘I think Hitler was wrong.’ Hitler WAS wrong.” (Gloria Leitner, “A Perspective on Belief,” The Humanist, May/June 1997, pp.38-39). Here Leitner is reasoning from her God-given conscience and not from humanist philosophy. It wasn’t long before she received criticism.

Humanist Abigail Ann Martin responded, “Neither am I an advocate of Hitler; however, by whose criteria is he evil?” (The Humanist, September/October 1997, p. 2.). Humanists don’t really have an intellectual basis for saying that Hitler was wrong, but their God-given conscience tells them that they are wrong on this issue.

Below is a study by Francis Schaeffer that makes the point that the French Revolution and the Communist Revolution in Russia should be compared.

E P I S O D E 5

How Should We Then Live Pt 5

T h e


I. Bible as Absolute Base for Law

A. Paul Robert’s mural in Lausanne.

B. Rutherford’s Lex Rex  (Law Is King): Freedom without chaos; government by law rather than arbitrary government by men.

C. Impact of biblical political principles in America.

1. Rutherford’s influence on U.S. Constitution: directly through Witherspoon; indirectly through Locke’s secularized version of biblical politics.

2. Locke’s ideas inconsistent when divorced from Christianity.

3. One can be personally non-Christian, yet benefit from Christian foundations: e.g. Jefferson and other founders.

II. The Reformation and Checks and Balances

A. Humanist and Reformation views of politics contrasted.

B. Sin is reason for checks and balances in Reformed view: Calvin’s position at Geneva examined.

C. Checks and balances in Protestant lands prevented bloody resolution of tensions.

D. Elsewhere, without this biblically rooted principle, tensions had to be resolved violently.

III. Contrast Between English and French Political Experience

A. Voltaire’s admiration of English conditions.

B. Peaceful nature of the Bloodless Revolution of 1688 in England related to Reformation base.

C. Attempt to achieve political change in France on English lines, but on Enlightenment base, produced a bloodbath and a dictatorship.

1. Constructive change impossible on finite human base.

2. Declaration of Rights of Man, the rush to extremes, and the Goddess of Reason.

3. Anarchy or repression: massacres, Robespierre, the Terror.

4. Idea of perfectibility of Man maintained even during the Terror.

IV. Anglo-American Experience Versus Franco-Russian

A. Reformation experience of freedom without chaos contrasts with that of Marxist-Leninist Russia.

B. Logic of Marxist-Leninism.

1. Marxism not a source of freedom.

2. 1917 Revolution taken over, not begun, by Bolsheviks.

3. Logic of communism: elite dictatorship, suppression of freedoms, coercion of allies.

V. Reformation Christianity and Humanism: Fruits Compared

A. Reformation gave absolutes to counter injustices; where Christians failed they were untrue to their principles.

B. Humanism has no absolute way of determining values consistently.

C. Differences practical, not just theoretical: Christian absolutes give limited government; denial of absolutes gives arbitrary rule.

VI. Weaknesses Which Developed Later in Reformation Countries

A. Slavery and race prejudice.

1. Failure to live up to biblical belief produces cruelty.

2. Hypocritical exploitation of other races.

3. Church’s failure to speak out sufficiently against this hypocrisy.

B. Noncompassionate use of accumulated wealth.

1. Industrialism not evil in itself, but only through greed and lack of compassion.

2. Labor exploitation and gap in living standards.

3. Church’s failure to testify enough against abuses.

C. Positive face of Reformation Christianity toward social evil.

1. Christianity not the only influence on consensus.

a) Church’s silence betrayed; did not reflect what it said it believed.

b) Non-Christian influences also important at that time; and many so-called Christians were “social” Christians only.

2. Contributions of Christians to social reform.

a) Varied efforts in slave trade, prisons, factories.

(1) Wesley, Newton, Clarkson, Wilberforce, and abolition of slavery.

(2) Howard, Elizabeth Fry, and prison reforms.

(3) Lord Shaftesbury and reform in the factories.

b) Impact of Whitefield-Wesley revivals on society.

VII. Reformation Did Not Bring Perfection

But gradually on basis of biblical teaching there was a unique improvement.

A. With Bible the ordinary citizen could say that majority was wrong.

B. Tremendous freedom without chaos because Bible gives a base for law.


1. What has been the role of biblical principles in the legal and political history of the countries studied?

2. Is it true that lands influenced by the Reformation escaped political violence because biblical concepts were acted upon?

3. What are the core distinctions, in terms of ideology and results, between English and American Revolutions on the one hand, and the French and Russian on the other hand?

4. What were the weaknesses which developed at a later date in countries which had a Reformation history?

5. Dr. Schaeffer believes that basic to action is an idea, and that the history of the West in the last two or three centuries has been marked by a humanism pressed to its tragic conclusions and by a Christianity insufficiently applied to the totality of life. How should Christians then approach participation in social and political affairs?

Key Events and Persons

Calvin: 1509-1564

Samuel Rutherford: 1600-1661

Rutherford’s Lex Rex: 1644

John Locke: 1631-1704

John Wesley: 1703-1791

Voltaire: 1694-1778

Letters on the English Nation: 1733

George Whitefield: 1714-1770

John Witherspoon: 1723-1794

John Newton: 1725-1807

John Howard: 1726-1790

Jefferson: 1743-1826

Robespierre: 1758-1794

Wilberforce: 1759-1833

Clarkson: 1760-1846

Napoleon: 1769-1821

Elizabeth Fry: 1780-1845

Declaration of Rights of Man: 1789

National Constituent Assembly: 1789-1791

Second French Revolution and Revolutionary Calendar: 1792

The Reign of Terror: 1792-1794

Lord Shaftesbury: 1801-1855

English slave trade ended: 1807

Slavery ended in Great Britain and Empire: 1833

Karl Marx: 1818-1883

Lenin: 1870-1924

Trotsky: 1879-1940

Stalin: 1879-1953

February and October Russian Revolutions: 1917

Berlin Wall: 1961

Czechoslovakian repression: 1968

Further Study

Charles Breunig, The Age of Revolution and Reaction: 1789-1850 (1970).

R.N. Carew Hunt, The Theory and Practice of Communism (1963).

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1957).

Peter Gay, ed., Deism: An Anthology (1968).

John McManners, The French Revolution and the Church (1970).

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (1957).

Louis L. Snyder, ed., The Age of Reason (1955).

David B. Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (1975).

J. Kuczynski, The Rise of the Working Class (1971).

Edmund S. Morgan, The Puritan Dilemma (1958).

John Newton, Out of the Depths. An Autobiography.

John Wesley, Journal (1 vol. abridge).

C. Woodham-Smith, The Great Hunger, Ireland, 1845-1849 (1964).

Some may argue that Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Midnight in Paris takes you on a magical tour of the city in this Twilight Zone style.

Gil (Owen Wilson) is a screenwriter feverishly working on his first novel while in Paris with his fiancée Inez (played by the stunning Rachel McAdams). After leaving a wine tasting, Gil stumbles into an old fashioned cab and is transported into 1920’s Paris. While in this strange time portal Gil comes face to face with some of the great minds of our culture like Gerald and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, and Inception’s Marion Cotillard as Adriana. Each character Gil runs into allows him to develop his novel even further. He begins to travel each night to continue writing and soak up more of the Parisian culture.

Midnight in Paris may look and feel like a 100 minute postcard for Paris most of the film, but underneath it all, Woody Allen snuck in a thought provoking concept on how we view nostalgia. Allen questions the concept of nostalgia and how we view it. It was so nicely woven into the story that you don’t even realize it.

I’ve watched enough sci-fi to know the time travel logistics don’t really make sense. The film doesn’t even bother explaining it. I’m sure Woody Allen could take time to tell us, but who really cares? Any reason to visit 1920’s Paris was good enough. The characters were poorly developed – that didn’t matter either. All that matters is we watched the characters walked the beautiful streets at night. The most entertaining character is Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway. He plays Hemingway as a hilarious blend of Don Draper and Indiana Jones. It’s not how I pictured Hemingway nevertheless I did enjoy it.

My Grade B-

If you’ve been to Paris, this film will make you want to go back. If you’ve never been, it will make you want book a flight immediately. The shots of the city are amazing. The two-minute intro doesn’t even seem that long because the shots are so breathtaking. Midnight in Paris may not be the summer’s best movie, but it’s the cheapest vacation to Paris you’re ever going to get.

Other posts on “Midnight in Paris”:”

The Characters referenced in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” (Part 21,Versailles and the French Revolution)

In Woody Allen’s movie “Midnight in Paris” Gil and his friends take a tour of Versailles (pictured below). In a comical scene from that movie the detective that is following Gil finds himself at Versailles back at the time of the French Revolution and he intrudes in on the king and queen of France. Then […]

The Characters referenced in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” (Part 20, King Louis XVI of France)

  I am presently going through all the historical figures that are mentioned in the Woody Allen movie “Midnight in Paris.” Today I am discussing Marie Antoinette’s husband King Louis XVI of France. Pictured above you can see Gil and Inez on their visit to tour Versailles with their snobby friend Paul. Paul goes on to […]

The Characters referenced in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” (Part 19,Marie Antoinette)

Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France (part1/12) I am presently going through all the historical figures that are mentioned in the Woody Allen movie “Midnight in Paris.” Today I am discussing Marie Antoinette. In the movie you can see Gil and Inez on their visit to tour Versailles with their snobby friend Paul. Paul goes on […]

The Characters referenced in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” (Part 18, Claude Monet)

The British gardener who’s taking care of Monet’s water lilies   By John Lichfield in Paris Thursday, 5 May 2011 PA/ REX FEATURES James Priest, the new head gardener at Giverny. Monet’s White Water Lilies, 1899, right British gardener is to take over one of the most venerated plots of ground in the world: the […]

The Characters referenced in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” (Part 17, J. M. W. Turner)

J. M. W. Turner Biography   View Larger Image > ( 1775 – 1851 ) I have enjoyed going through the artists referenced in Woody Allen’s movie “Midnight in Paris.” Paul is the snobby expert on impressionist art that talks about Monet at the museum but he notes that Turner was actually really the author […]

The characters referenced in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” (Part 16, Josephine Baker)

I have been going through the characters in Woody Allen’s movie “Midnight in Paris,” and now I am posting about Josephine Baker. By the way, I know that some of you are wondering how many posts I will have before I am finished. Right now I have plans to look at Van Gogh, Picasso, Man […]

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