In the film MIDNIGHT IN PARIS Woody Allen is really looking at one main question through the pursuits of his main character GIL PENDER. That question is WAS THERE EVER A GOLDEN AGE AND DID THE MOST TALENTED UNIVERSAL MEN OF THAT TIME FIND TRUE SATISFACTION DURING IT? This is the second post I have done in this series and the first one dealt with MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT.
ECCLESIASTES 7:10 Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
A case could be made that the greatest explosion of art came out of Paris in the last few decades of the 1800’s and a case could also be made that it was in the 1920’s in Paris. I am not going to give a direct answer to that but I will discuss both periods of time. In the film MIDNIGHT IN PARIS Woody Allen is looking long and hard at this issue of a “Golden Age” in which the best and brightest of the time tried to find meaning and satisfaction in life. I will compare this to Solomon’s search later in this post.
MIDNIGHT AT PARIS starts with Gil Pender picking his favorite time and his favorite people of that time, “Imagine this town in the 20s. Paris in the ’20s,in the rain; the artists and writers.”
Gil’s girlfriend Inez tries to talk him out of moving to Paris to live and write his novel and her friend Paul agrees with her.
Paul: And just which era would you have preferred to live in, Miniver Cheevy?
Inez: Paris in the ’20s, in the rain.- Wouldn’t have been bad.-
Paul : And no global warming,no TV and suicide bombing,and nuclear weapons, drug cartels!Usual menu of horror stories.You know, nostalgia is denial.- Denial of the painful present.- Oh, whoa!
Inez: Gil is a complete romantic.I mean, he would bemore than happy living in acomplete state of perpetual denial.
Paul: Really?- And the name for this fallacy is called “golden-age thinking.”– Yeah, the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in.It’s a flaw in the Romantic imagination of those people who…who find it difficult to cope with the depressive.-
(Solomon would agree with Paul on this point and in Ecclesiastes 1:8-10 Solomon states: All things are wearisome and all words are frail; Man cannot express it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor is the ear filled with hearing. 9 That which has been is that which will be [again], And that which has been done is that which will be done again. So there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which it can be said, “See this, it is new”? It has already existed for [the vast] ages [of time recorded or unrecorded] Which were before us.)
Gil is thrilled later in the film that Gertrude Stein is willing to read a draft of his book and the first line goes like this: OUT OF THE PAST was the name of the store, and its products consisted of memories.What was prosaic and even vulgar to one generation, had been transmuted by the mere passing of years to a status at once magical and also camp.
Picasso’s mistress Adriana was impressed. “I love it.I’m already hooked. Hooked!”
GIL: So were you really hookedwith those opening lines?
ADRIANA: Oh, the past has always had a great charisma for me.
GIL: Oh, me, too. Great charisma for me.I always say that I was born too late.
ADRIANA: Mmm. Moi aussi. (Mmm. Me, too.)For me, La Belle Époque Paris (1873-1914) would have been perfect.-
GIL: Really? Better than now?-
ADRIANA: Yes.Another whole sensibility,the street lamps, the kiosques,the…horse and carriages,and Maxim’s then.
The film concludes with Gil finally coming to a realization that life is a little unsatisfying no matter when you live and no matter who you are.
After living in 2011 and wishing to visit Paris in the 1920’s he is transported to Paris in the last decade of the 1800’s to La Belle Époque Paris (1873-1914) which was Adriana’s favorite golden age and he meets Lautrec, Gaugin and Degas and low and behold they are saying that “this generation is empty, and is missing imagination. Better to have lived during the Renaissance.No! This is the golden age.”
Gil: Yeah, but about the’20s, and the Charleston,and the Fitzgeralds, and the Hemingways? I mean, I love those guys.
Adriana: But it’s the present. It’s dull.Dull?
Gil: It’s not my present.I’m from 2010.
Adriana: What do you mean?
Gil: I dropped in on you the same way we’re dropping in on the 1890s. I was trying to escape my present thesame way you’re trying to escape yours,to a golden age.
Adriana:Surely you don’t think the ’20s are a golden age!
Gil: Well, yeah. To me they are.
Adriana: But I’m from the ’20s, and I’m telling you the golden age is La Belle Époque Paris (1873-1914).
Gil: And look at these guys. I mean, to them,their golden age was the Renaissance.You know, they’re trade La Belle Époque Paris to be painting alongside Titian and Michelango. And those guys probably imagined life was a lot better when Kublai Khan was around.You see, I’m having an insightright now. It’s a minor one, but it explains the anxiety in my dream that I had.- I had a dream the other night, where it was like a nightmare,where I ran out of Zithromax. And then I went to the dentist,and he didn’t have any Novocaine.You see what I’m saying?These people don’t have any antibiotics. Adriana, if you stay here,and this becomes your present,then, pretty soon, you’ll start imagining another time was really your,you know, was really the golden time.That’s what the present is.That it’s a little unsatisfying,because life’s a little unsatisfying.
(Below a picture of Gil and Adriana visiting the 1880’s)
Picasso with Gertrude Stein below:
Gil Pender in the movie MIDNIGHT IN PARIS regards these gentlemen of the 1920’s as geniuses and they could be compared to what Francis Schaeffer calls the “universal man” of many talents. Francis Schaeffer explains:
Solomon is the author of Ecclesiastes and he is truly an universal man like Leonardo da Vinci.
Two men of the Renaissance stand above all others – Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci and it is in them that one can perhaps grasp a view of the ultimate conclusion of humanism for man. Michelangelo was unequaled as a sculptor in the Renaissance and arguably no one has ever matched his talents.
The other giant of the Renaissance period was Leonardo da Vinci – the perfect Renaissance Man, the man who could do almost anything and does it better than most anyone else. As an inventor, an engineer, an anatomist, an architect, an artist, a chemist, a mathematician, he was almost without equal. It was perhaps his mathematics that lead da Vinci to come to his understanding of the ultimate meaning of Humanism. Leonardo is generally accepted as the first modern mathematician. He not only knew mathematics abstractly but applied it in his Notebooks to all manner of engineering problems. He was one of the unique geniuses of history, and in his brilliance he perceived that beginning humanistically with mathematics one only had particulars. He understood that man beginning from himself would never be able to come to meaning on the basis of mathematics. And he knew that having only individual things, particulars, one never could come to universals or meaning and thus one only ends with mechanics. In this he saw ahead to where our generation has come: everything, including man, is the machine.
Leonardo da Vinci compares well to Solomon and they both were universal men searching for the meaning in life. Solomon was searching for a meaning in the midst of the details of life. His struggle was to find the meaning of life. Not just plans in life. Anybody can find plans in life. A child can fill up his time with plans of building tomorrow’s sand castle when today’s has been washed away. There is a difference between finding plans in life and purpose in life. Humanism since the Renaissance and onward has never found it and it has never found it. Modern man has not found it and it has always got worse and darker in a very real way.
We have here the declaration of Solomon’s universality in I Kings 4:34, “ And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.”
Here is the universal man and his genius. Solomon is the universal man with a empire at his disposal. Solomon had it all.
English Standard Version (ESV)
3 What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
Schaeffer noted that Solomon took a look at the meaning of life on the basis of human life standing alone between birth and death “under the sun.” This phrase UNDER THE SUN appears over and over in Ecclesiastes. The Christian Scholar Ravi Zacharias noted, “The key to understanding the Book of Ecclesiastes is the term UNDER THE SUN — What that literally means is you lock God out of a closed system and you are left with only this world of Time plus Chance plus matter.”
Francis Schaeffer asserted:
The universal man, Solomon, beyond our intelligence with an empire at his disposal with the opportunity of observation so he could recite these words here in Ecclesiastes 6:12, “For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life? He will spend them like a shadow. For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun?”
In Ecclesiastes 1:8 he drives this home when he states, “All things are wearisome; Man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor is the ear filled with hearing.” Solomon is stating here the fact that there is no final satisfaction because you don’t get to the end of the thing. THERE IS NO FINAL SATISFACTION. This is related to Leonardo da Vinci’s similar search for universals and then meaning in life.
In the film MIDNIGHT IN PARIS we have Gil meeting Gertrude Stein in her studio where at separate times both Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse are present in the 1920’s and Gil regards these artists as the greatest artistic geniuses of all time. However, Adriana sees things differently and she regards Paris in the 1880’s as the best time and she idolizes artists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and Edgar Degas, but when they meet them later in the film Gauguin and Degas are arguing that the Renaissance was the greatest time.
The Lost Generation A&E Biography. I DO NOT OWN THIS MATERIAL.
Francis Schaeffer pictured below:
Francis Schaeffer in the episode, “The Age of Fragmentation,” Episode 8 of HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE? noted:
I want to stress that I am not minimizing these men as men. To read van Gogh’s letters is to weep for the pain of this sensitive man. Nor do I minimize their talent as painters. Their work often has great beauty indeed. But their art did become the vehicle of modern man’s view of fractured truth and light. As philosophy had moved from unity to fragmentation so did painting. In 1912 Kaczynski wrote an article saying that in so far as the old harmony, that is an unity of knowledge have been lost, that only two possibilities remained: extreme abstraction or extreme naturalism, both he said were equal.
Photo taken in 1944 after a reading of Picasso’s play El deseo pillado por la cola: Standing from left to right: Jacques Lacan, Cécile Éluard, Pierre Reverdy, Louise Leiris, Pablo Picasso, Zanie de Campan, Valentine Hugo, Simone de Beauvoir, Brassaï. Sitting, from left to right: Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Michel Leiris, Jean Aubier. Photo by Brassaï. –