Katie and I went to the movies in the middle of the day on a Monday, one of the many luxuries of retirement. I still get excited when we enter the theater and smell the popcorn, though we rarely eat any. There are few things as satisfying as seeing a good movie on the big screen. At this time of year, the previews of coming attractions are all summer blockbusters. Most of them are action-packed movies relying heavily on special effects. Obviously, these movies are meant to attract the younger crowd. I’m rarely interested in seeing any of them.
We saw “Midnight in Paris” and both really enjoyed it. It is a typical Woody Allen movie. The main character Gil, played by Owen Wilson, one of the best Woody Allen substitutes yet, is a romantic. He is faced with the choice of either trying to live his dream or conforming to the norms and expectations of others. Gil is on vacation with his fiancée and her parents in Paris. He is thrilled to be there, in the very place where many of his heroes gathered back in the twenties. He sees this time in history as the golden age of Paris. He’s always wanted to live and write in Paris, but instead “sold out” to become a Hollywood screenwriter. His fiancée, Inez, gives him little to no support for his romantic vision and her parents, conservative right wing republicans, just don’t like him. Inez expects Gil to continue on in his secure and lucrative job in Hollywood, but to Gil this is beginning to feel like a shallow and empty pursuit.
In an attempt to immerse himself in the Paris magic, Gil takes a walk by himself through the city streets. At midnight, he is invited into an old taxi by some party goers who turn out to be Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. The cab transports him back in time to the roaring ‘20s. He does this night after night, meeting and partying with many of his literary and artistic heroes. These famous characters of the time are portrayed stereotypically and humorously through Woody’s eyes. I loved seeing Owen Wilson channeling Woody and conversing with Hemingway, Picasso, Dali, Gertrude Stein and others.
As in many of Woody’s movies, the protagonist struggles with a deeper existential question. After experiencing Paris in the’20s, he is transported further back in time to another golden age, the turn of the century, and he comes to realize that the romantic vision of another life in another time or place is only that, a romantic vision and nothing more.
Gil had traveled to Paris earlier in his life and realized that he missed an opportunity to experience his dream back then. He doesn’t want to miss it again, and the movie ends with a positive ‘follow your dream’ message. Gil chooses to stay in Paris and write his novel in present time, and begin to live in his own golden age.
For many of us retirees, this is our time to catch up on missed opportunities. Some will always remain missed, but others can be realized to some degree or other. At this age, life looks different than it did when we were young. So many of the dreams we had were dreams of the young—dreams of becoming something greater than how we perceived ourselves. At various times in my life I dreamed of being a professional baseball player, a rock ‘n’ roll star and a famous writer living in southern Europe. In retirement I can still keep active physically, play music and write, right here where I am. Many retirees like myself are trying to transform the golden years into the golden age.
I’m having a little trouble letting go of the writer in southern Europe dream.