Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Way Of Bohemians: Midnight In Paris

It is suitable that writer and director Woody Allen opens his latest film Midnight In Paris with a montage of scenes of Paris: obvious shots of Paris, then shots that could be any city in the world. Why is this an important introduction? Because Paris, like the famous artists and writers Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) meets by time-traveling at the stroke of midnight, means different things to different people.
In many ways, Gil "going back in time" to visit the Paris of the 1920's is him living out the novel that he is writing: one could easily see a parallel to Paris and the curiosity shop his hero owns in his novel, and the memorabilia which the curiosity shop owner is a link to the past for people who, like Gil, want to visit those who lived before, and Gil the writer has turned their literature, art and very lives into items in his hero's shop.
To me, the best-written part of the film is after Gil has discovered the diary of Adriana (Marion Cotillard) which reveals to him that Adriana is in love with him and she has a dream about receiving a gift of earrings from him and then they make love. Gil immediately returns to the hotel, excited that Adriana is as taken with him as he is with her. Remembering that he needs to get her some earrings, he goes through his fiancee's jewelry box.
Gil takes Inez's pearl earrings (Rachel McAdams), and, dumping out the cards and envelopes, puts them into a brown stationary box, takes a bite of a chocolate and wraps the box with a ribbon from the box of candy; as he prepares to leave the hotel room, he puts on his jacket and his shirt lifts up and we see a bit of his exposed skin on his waist. Inez and her parents unexpectedly enter the room and he's caught with the box; Inez notices her missing earrings and is prepared to report the maid's theft, when Gil "finds" them on the bathroom sink. Why is this a well-written scene?
Of all the jewelry Inez has, it's pearl earrings he choose to give to Adriana; since pearls symbolize wisdom (because it takes so long to form pearls and it takes so long to gain wisdom) Gil re-distributes the honor of which woman in his life he will seek wisdom from, i.e., whereas he has been to Inez with decisions to be made, he will now go to Adriana. Earrings specifically denote the ear, the way we listen, but it's not just that he acknowledges Adriana listens to him more than Inez, but that he will tell her things for Adriana to listen to (instead of trying to tell Inez something that she will not listen to). 
Gil keeps the earrings in a blue case (I couldn't tell what kind of material the case was made of) but the blue may either denote wisdom (because blue is the color of wisdom) or depression, so it could mean that since the pearls are encased in blue, that in his complex situations (he is noted as having sad eyes by Dali, so that's why I am leaning towards depression) it is to Adriana that he will go for solace, not Inez. Taking out the stationary from the box denotes "writing" which is what Gil wants to do, but just as Picasso has painted her and Hemingway might write of her, Adriana will be "encased" in Gil's writing, she will be the heart of what he writes. The chocolate he takes a bite of is the sweetness of expectation to which he looks forward and the ribbon is a sign of "being bound" to her (a commitment that he willing makes to be with her).
But this last part, it is important to note, is done while he sits on the bed, referring, of course, to the hope that Adriana will sleep with him and that their physical relationship will replace the relationship he has had with Inez. Gil putting on his jacket and his shirt lifting up to reveal his bare skin "exposes" what motivates Gil: that he feels confident he can sleep with Adriana. Then Inez walks in and wants to know what the box is. Gil replies that it is a gift for her to be given to her over a special dinner he plans them having in the future. Knowing what we do about the earrings, it seems that this is an unconscious translation of Gil prepping Inez for the gift of breaking off their engagement because Inez will be better off without him and the dinner they will be sharing symbolizes the knowledge they will share with each other that they have both been seeing someone else.
After meeting Hemingway and agreeing to bring his manuscript, Gil leaves the bar and then wants to go back to ask Hemingway something but the bar is now a modern day laundromat. This is the first important image we get of "cleaning," and this meeting with Hemingway "cleans out" Gil's understanding of what he wants to get out of his life and his writing.
Gil's "transplanting" his love for Inez to Adriana is symbolized by Inez's father's chest pains (the heart). Because Inez is his daughter by blood, Inez and her father's pain can be correlated also because he has had a balloon put in, which symbolizes the "hot air" that both Inez and Gil have been blowing about who they have been spending their time with and "what it means" (Inez spending time with pedantic Paul because he's an expert on everything and Gil spending time with Adriana because he's writing).
Inez blaming the maid for stealing her pearl earrings is absolutely correct: Adriana is a maid, because she's "cleaning up" Gil's understanding of himself and giving him confidence that he needs in place of the false image that Inez wants to keep Gil within (a Hollywood hack writer). The second cleaning image we get is that the pearl earrings are "found" by the bathroom sink. Why does Gil say that Inez dropped them? Because that's how she has been treating him, dropping Gil for Paul. I know this seems to be a "transference" of the symbol's meaning (the earrings) but this is part of the fluidity of art, that has a situation develops, the
The night before (1920's Paris, that is) Adriana and Gil had been walking here and discovered Zelda Fitzgerald ready to jump into the river because she feared the Scott loved a countess and was tired of her. Here is Gil visiting the same spot because, consciously or not, he feels in the same situation as Zelda even though he's also doing the same thing to Inez that he realizes she is doing to him. This is another one of the "cleaning" images in the film because Gil cleanses himself of the pain of what Inez has done to him (preferring Paul to him) as well as cleansing himself of guilt he may or may not feel over what he has done to Inez. This is an important moment in the film because it's this shot, this place in the story's narrative, that has been highlighted in the poster.
Inez's father's examination after Inez was ready to report the theft of the earrings reflects not only the "examination" Inez is doing about Gil, but Gil is doing about Inez: "Daddy says you are a communist," which means one thing to Inez, but means something else to Gil (you could say that Gil wants to have Adriana in "communion" with all the other artists who have had her, and have Paris in communion with other artists).
Why Paris?
It's interesting because Paris is known as the city of lovers, but the two lovers who arrive, Inez and Gil, are broken apart; however, we can also say that, because of the bohemian lifestyle of Paris, one's mask is stripped off (this is kind of alluded to when Gil sees Luis Bunuel and gives him the idea for the film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) and this is why the last shot of Gil is in the rain: rain cleanses. By the end of the film, Gil has "stripped himself" of his own mask and illusions and he can make that commitment to himself and his writing because he won't be writing Hemingway, he won't be writing Fitzgerald, he won't be anyone but Gil Pender, and having himself, he now has something real, straight and true to write about.