I love children. For some reason this often surprises people, although the lack of height difference between myself and the average eight year old should probably be an indication that we’ll get along just fine. We have the same view of the world, after all. Except that despite the similarity in what we can physically see (a lot of the ground, not a lot of any top shelves) the way we interpret that information is dramatically different. The years between us might not have made me much taller, but they have, as they have done to us all, made me less wonderful. Not that I’m not pretty damn great (obviously) but I am no longer so full of wonder for the world around me.
I don’t remember when I realised that Santa was far less tangible than the tangerines in my Christmas stocking, but around that point scepticism began to creep in to the corners of my life with all the subtlety of an elderly gentleman sliding down a chimney. I was curious about everything, and that curiosity killed the catalogue of my childhood joys, most notably in the brutal murder and resulting total eradication of St. Nic. The jolly old man was relegated from reality and confined to shaking his belly like a bowl full of jelly in my imagination only.
I think that our very adult inability to trust; our reliance on what Samuel Taylor Coleridge dubbed a ‘suspension of disbelief’, where you must actively forget what you know to be impossible, as opposed to a genuine experience of innocent amazement; makes us critical, cynical, and cowardly. Very soon Santa is not alone in his imaginary prison cell, but cohabiting with a motley crew of ‘idealistic’ things such as Love, Faith, Goodness, and the Easter Bunny.
So this brings me in a very roundabout fashion to my point. In the run-up to the release of Blue Jasmine, which The Guardian have given five stars and called “the real deal”, I am unhelpfully, but appropriately, far more concerned with Woody Allen’s cinematic past: Midnight in Paris.
Last week I watched it for the first time, and was amazed at how quickly I could suspend my suspension of disbelief. When the 1920’s Peugeot landaulet picks up the extremely inebriated aspiring novelist Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) from the streets of modern day Paris at midnight, and takes him back to “Paris in the ’20s, in the rain” – his personal golden age – my lovely friend Lucy leant over and whispered, “I’m confused. What’s happening?”
The sudden appearance of time-travel in what we had both assumed was a non-fantasy had completely baffled us. I thoughtfully cocked my head to one side as Gil meets F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and slowly said, “Well, he’s either actually travelled back in time or he’s having a really good dream”. (See? Cynicism.) “Either way,” I said, with slightly more confidence, “the narrative of the film wants the viewer to believe at this point that he has travelled back in time”. (Critical, and full of the depressing self-awareness of post-modernism.) At this point the stupefied expression on Gil’s face was closely matched by our own.
And then a really wonderful thing happened. Woody Allen sprinkled some Parisian fairy dust (with the help of a huge amount of sequins) and as Gil accepted not just the possibility but the reality of time travel, so did we. By the time Gil meets Hemingway (played with all the abrupt frankness you would expect), we, like Gil, had pretty much decided that this was the best thing ever. We did not question the fact that he was meeting his literary heroes, or an array of famous artists who I won’t name because playing spot-the-genius is another reason why this film is so magical. Whenever Gil stumbled back into the present there was a palpable feeling of disappointment on our sofa.
A dazed Gil asks his fiancée, Inez, (played by Rachel McAdams), “If I were to tell you that I spent last night with Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald, what would you say?” She, a slightly two-dimensional stereotype of a modern woman replies, “I’d be thinking: brain tumour”.
Cries of “I hate her!” were frequently directed with fury at the TV screen, but Inez is a caricature of the slightly exasperated pessimism which we would all feel if put in her situation. She is a grown up. She is concerned with buying furniture and making realistic plans for the future. She doesn’t have any desire to walk the streets of Paris at night because her feet hurt from the gym and she’s been wearing heels all day. Gil, who is more in love with Paris than he is with her, is child-like in his enthusiasm for life in the city: as Inez says to him, “You act like you’ve never been here before”. And Adriana (Marion Cotillard), the beautiful mistress of Picasso – who Gil and the film’s viewers can’t help but fall in love with – is so enticing because of her constantly shining eyes.
Admittedly Inez is not just unpleasant because she’s a grown up. Lines such as “You always take the side of the help! That’s why Daddy thinks you’re a Communist!” are not exactly designed to endear her to viewers. Inez is frankly so awful that she makes Adriana’s child-like prioritisation of emotions over logic seem like a good idea. By the end of the film though, Adriana’s childish enthusiasm compels Gil to realise he must find a way to grow up without becoming like the cynical Inez, and the viewers grow up with him. And we were a bit sad about it, but we understood that it was the right thing to do. But he still retains that child-like sense of wonder, and walks home in the rain, at midnight, in Paris.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that, thanks to Woody Allen, I have been reminded that although acting childishly is always discouraged, and adult responsibilities can never be entirely forgotten, seeing the world as a child sees it is no bad thing.
So, grown-ups. Life is hard, and not without sadness, but despair not. Whisper it in your best impression of Rick in Casablanca…
We’ll always have Midnight in Paris.