The characters referenced in Woody Allen’s movie “Midnight in Paris” (Part 36, Alice B. Toklas, Woody Allen on the meaning of life)

 I have been going through all the historical figures mentioned in Woody Allen’s latest movie “Midnight in Paris,” and today I will be discussing Alice B. Toklas. Also I will take a look at Woody Allen’s search for the meaning in life in connection with this film.
In one scene Ernest Heminingway brings Gil to meet Gertrude Stein. Alice opens the door and Heminingway greets her. That is the extent of her involvement in the film.
Jump to: navigation, search

Alice B. Toklas, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1949

Alice B. Toklas (April 30, 1877 – March 7, 1967) was an American-born member of the Parisian avant-garde of the early 20th century.



[edit] Biography

[edit] Early life, relationship with Gertrude Stein

She was born Alice Babette Toklas in San Francisco, California into a middle-class Jewish family and attended schools in both San Francisco and Seattle. For a short time she also studied music at the University of Washington. She met Gertrude Stein in Paris on September 8, 1907 on the first day that she arrived. Together they hosted a salon that attracted expatriate American writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, Paul Bowles, Thornton Wilder and Sherwood Anderson, and avant-garde painters, including Picasso, Matisse and Braque.

Acting as Stein’s confidante, lover, cook, secretary, muse, editor, critic, and general organizer, Toklas remained a background figure, chiefly living in the shadow of Stein, until Stein published her memoirs in 1933 under the teasing title The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. It became Stein’s bestselling book. The two were a couple until Gertrude Stein’s death in 1946.[1]

In Woody Allen’s latest movie “Midnight in Paris,” Allen seems to offer hope for the future even though everyone knows he has always been a person that has embraced nihilism. It is my view that deep down Woody Allen knows that God has created him and this world is not a world made by chance. Therefore, he continues to search for that missing part of his life though his agnostic views tell him that he must say that the world is meaningless.

Allen is also looking at this issue of “golden age thinking” in his film “Midnight in Paris.” Take a look at this quote below from Allen.

Woody Allen: The Film Comment Interview (Expanded Version)

Written by Kent Jones

You’re revisiting something with this movie that you opened up with A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy and The Purple Rose of Cairo.
It’s a recurring, nagging feeling of mine that the reality we’re all trapped in is, in actual fact, if you dissect it, like a nightmare. I’m always looking for ways to escape that reality. One escapes it by going to the movies. One escapes it by becoming involved in the trivial nonsense of “Are the Yankees going to win?” or “Are the Mets going to win?” When in fact it means nothing. But life means nothing either. It means as much as the ballgame. So you’re constantly looking for ways to escape from reality. And one of the fallacies that comes up all the time is the Golden Age fallacy, that you’d have been happier at a different time. Just as people think, “If I moved to Paris I’d be happier” or “If I moved to London…” Then they do, and they’re not. Even though these places are great, they’re not happier, because it isn’t the geography that’s eating them up, it’s the existential reality of how grim a predicament we’re in. So, I’ve played around with that before, the notion of wanting to get out of the real world, get out of time. Here, Owen does get a chance to go back, and it’s fine. But he realizes as he looks around that those people want to go back too, and that it doesn’t matter where you go, that life is unsatisfying whether you lived in the renaissance or la belle époque or now or 100 years from now. It’s an unsatisfying situation.

You mean, because it’s never going to be all-embracing, and you’ll never have the perfect conversations and the perfect sympathy that you want.
You’re always looking for some way to beat the house, but you can never do it. You get to Paris in the Twenties, you see that everyone there is unhappy too and they want to be someplace else, and there’s a lot of downside—you go to the dentist and there’s no novocaine, there are a lot of negatives. So you have to eventually conclude that you’re in a meaningless and even tragic predicament. Starting from these grim ground rules, you’ve gotta figure out how you’re going to navigate through life and why it’s worth it. This is all grim stuff for comedy.


Others have struggled with this same question of meaning. Below I examine some of their searches along with Allen’s.

Conclusions on the Meaning of Life from Solomon, Woody Allen, Coldplay and Kansas
Just like King Solomon of ancient Israel, all of these individuals are very wealthy, famous, and successful. Yet after reaching the top of their fields, they still were seeking the answers to life’s greatest questions even though it seemed they had experienced all the best the world had to offer.

Unlike many the past grammy winners of “Best Rock Album,” Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends by Coldplay is filled with songs that deal with spiritual themes such as death, the meaning of life and searching for an afterlife.

Leadsinger Chris Martin notes, “…because we’ve had some people close to us we’ve lost, but some miracles — we’ve got kids. So, life has been very extreme recently, and so both death and life pop up quite often” (MTV News interview, June 9, 2008).

The subject of death is prominent in the songs “Death and All His Friends,” and the “Cemeteries of London.” Then the song “The Escapist” states, “And in the end, We lie awake and we dream, we’re makin our escape.” In the end we all die. Therefore, I assume this song is searching for an afterlife.

The song “Glass of Water” sheds some more light on where we could possibly go: “Oh he said you could see a future inside a glass of water, with riddles and the rhymes, He asked ‘Will I see heaven in mine?’ ”

Coldplay is clearly searching for spiritual answers but it seems they have not found them quite yet. The song “42“: “Time is so short and I’m sure, There must be something more.” Then the song “Lost“: “Every river that I tried to cross, Every door I ever tried was locked, I’m just waiting til the shine wears off, You might be a big fish in a little pond, Doesn’t mean you’ve won, Because along may come a bigger one and you will be lost.”

Solomon went to the extreme in his searching in the Book of Ecclesiastes for this “something more” that Coldplay is talking about, but he found riches (2:8-11), pleasure (2:1), education (2:3), fame (2:9) and his work (2:4) all “meaningless” and “vanity” and “a chasing of the wind.”

All of his accomplishments would not be remembered (1:11) and who is to say that they had not already been done before by others (1:10)? This reminds me of the big fish in the little pond that Coldplay was talking about. Even if you think you are on top, are you really and for how long? Overshadowing it all was  Solomon’s upcoming death which depressed him because both people and animals alike “go to the same place — they came from dust and they return to dust” (3:20). Woody Allen made a similar point, “My 70-plus years will be spent better than those of a beggar on the streets of Calcutta. But we’ll wind up the same place.”
In 1978 I heard the song “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas when it rose to #6 on the charts. That song told me that Kerry Livgren the writer of that song and a member of Kansas had come to the same conclusion that Solomon had. I remember mentioning to my friends at church that we may soon see some members of Kansas become Christians because their search for the meaning of life had obviously come up empty even though they had risen from being an unknown band to the top of the music business and had all the wealth and fame that came with that. But just like Solomon  they realized death comes to everyone and “there must be something more.”

Livgren wrote:

“All we do, crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see, Dust in the Wind, All we are is dust in the wind, Don’t hang on, Nothing lasts forever but the Earth and Sky, It slips away, And all your money won’t another minute buy.”

The movie maker Woody Allen has embraced the nihilistic message of the song “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas. David Segal in his article, “Things are Looking Up for the Director Woody Allen. No?” (Washington Post, July 26, 2006), wrote, “Allen is evangelically passionate about a few subjects. None more so than the chilling emptiness of life…The 70-year-old writer and director has been musing about life, sex, work, death and his generally futile search for hope…the world according to Woody is so bereft of meaning, so godless and absurd, that the only proper response is to curl up on a sofa and howl for your mommy.”

The song “Dust in the Wind” recommends, “Don’t hang on.” Allen himself says, “It’s just an awful thing and in that context you’ve got to find an answer to the question: ‘Why go on?’ ”  It is ironic that Chris Martin the leader of Coldplay regards Woody Allen as his favorite director.

Lets sum up the final conclusions of these gentlemen:  Coldplay is still searching for that “something more.” Woody Allen has concluded the search is futile.

Both Kerry Livgren and Dave Hope of Kansas became Christians eventually. Kerry Livgren first tried Eastern Religions and Dave Hope had to come out of a heavy drug addiction. I was shocked and elated to see their personal testimony on The 700 Club in 1981 and that same  interview can be seen on youtube today. Livgren lives in Topeka, Kansas today where he teaches “Diggers,” a Sunday school class at Topeka Bible Church. Hope is the head of Worship, Evangelism and Outreach at Immanuel Anglican Church in Destin, Florida.

You can hear Kerry Livgren’s story from this youtube link:

(part 1 ten minutes)

(part 2 ten minutes)

Solomon’s experiment was a search for meaning of life “under the sun”(1:3). Then in last few words in the Book of Ecclesiastes he looks above the sun and brings God back into the picture: “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: Fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: