Life lessons via Woody Allen? Who knew.
Surely by now you have seen his latest, Midnight in Paris, a sweet little movie that is both a love letter to Paris with a few big questions tucked inside the laughs. To wit: Do we idealize what we don’t have? Are we in love with a fantasy — and does that love affair sometimes throw us over the edge?
For those of you who have not yet seen the movie, it’s not too much of a spoiler to note that Gil, the main character played by Owen Wilson, has fallen head over heels for a glorious Paris of a bygone era, the one that is inhabited by writers and artists such as Ernest Hemmingway, Scott (and Zelda) Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Salvador Dali. In the world according to Woody, Gil falls into a time wrinkle and dances and drinks with them all each night after the clock strikes 12.
It’s heady and exciting and romantic as well: Gil’s vision of the perfect life. And yet. What he eventually learns is this: when you idealize the past, you put yourself in danger of missing out on the present.
It’s a lesson we women could take to heart. So many of us have been raised with the fantasy not of another era – but of the perfect life. It’s a pervasive message – you can have it all, you can do it all, you can be it all – and, the biggest scam of all, it’s all going to be perfect.
Except when it isn’t.
And yet, like our hapless hero in Midnight in Paris, once we’ve been fed on the fantasy, we continue to chase it as Gil does by hopping into a vintage Peugeot cabriolet each night that transports him to Gertrude Stein’s salon. But when our day-to-day reality falls short of the ideal – as it often does — we look to the other side of the fence, the path not taken, and assume the world we imagine, our own personal Paris of the 1920s, is so much better than it actually is.
And there you have it. Grass-is-greener syndrome as explained by Woody Allen.
All of which makes us wonder: does our romantization of that other reality lead us to second guess our choices? Convince ourselves that someone out there is always doing it better, faster – and having more fun (and thanks for that, facebook friends)?
We know in our hearts that perfection is nothing but a pipedream, and yet the messaging tells us otherwise: we’ll have it all it all – career, marriage, family and granite in the kitchen. And all of it will be just as advertised, thank you very much. But even when it is, as tennis icon Billie Jean King reminded us on the 50th anniversary of her first Wimbledon title, perfection is only a momentary hit of Nirvana. Last week, NPR’s Susan Stamberg asked King, who won her first title at 17 and proceeded to win 20 more, what it felt like to hit a perfect shot. Check her response:
Ms. KING: It feels like it’s mind, body and soul totally integrated for one perfect moment and you feel like you’re one with yourself and one with the universe all in a very split moment.
STAMBERG: The first time you do it, do you have time to stop and think, gee, I just did that, or is it just all moving so fast?
Ms. KING: No, no, it’s just a split moment. You’re in and out. You’re totally in the process, in the moment. That’s when you’re in the zone in anything. And all you do in life, if you’re engaged in the moment, that’s when life, I find, is the most, you know, it’s most gratifying.
And that’s the secret: Living in the moment, with all its beautiful imperfections. Which leads us back to Midnight in Paris. The film wraps with a dose of happily-ever-after as well as an epiphany that makes sense for us all: The present is a little unsatisfying because life itself is a little unsatisfying.
And that’s just fine with us.