Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris

Time Travel and Self-Travel to Find One’s True Artistic Individuality

Afaf Hafidh Shakir Darraji

In the film Midnight in Paris, the director, Woody Allen (1935), evokes, at the beginning, an excellent panorama for Paris at noon. The image is accompanied by the jazz music of the 1920s. The mood of the film is in harmony with the nostalgia of the protagonist, Gil. The audience becomes fascinated by the beauty of Paris, and hears Gil’s description of it and of his yearning to live there, in the 1920s. The wishes he utters and then the magical experience he enjoys at midnight is a mirror image of the fairy tale of Cinderella. While Cinderella’s magical transformation into a princess ends at midnight, Gil’s travel into another time starts at midnight. In this atmospheric film, which won the Academy Award 2011: best original screenplay [Owen:2015,2017].” the writer and director Allen uses a cocktail of postmodernist techniques of writing. He uses metafiction, magical realism, and self-referential techniques simultaneously in the film. This essay aims at showing how Gil overcomes his anxieties as a writer. 

Gil is a successful screenwriter for Hollywood, but he thinks that he could write a novel which would be much more substantial than screenplays for him. He has been writing his novel and brings the script with him to Paris. His fiancée, Inez, believes that this is not what he should be doing. She underestimates his intellectual capabilities regarding the film, and voices her doubts when they meet her old friend Paul in Paris. Inez admires whatever her previous professor, Paul, says and at the end the audience discovers that she has betrayed Gil and slept with Paul, the ‘Pedantic’.

Not only does Gil discover that Inez has been unfaithful to him but he realizes that they are incompatible. She is a materialistic, spiteful girl; when she loses her earring she immediately accuses the maid at the hotel where she is staying. Gil loves rain and loves Paris and is fascinated by its atmosphere and history, while his fiancée is preoccupied with  material possessions and displays of wealth. Gil’s experience with his fiancée, and the Frenchwoman he falls in love with at the very end of the film, accompanies the fantastic experience he enjoys at each midnight in one of the streets of Paris. He refuses to continue the night dancing with Inez and her friends. He loses his way to the hotel and sits on the steps of one of the buildings. Suddenly at midnight a car stops in front of him and he finds himself face to face with the American novelist Francis S. Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940) and his wife Zelda (1900–1948). They take him to places where he meets other prominent literary and artistic figures of the 1920s,  like Hemingway (1899 – 1961), T. S. Eliot (1888-1965); the Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí (1904- 1989), Gertrude Stein (1874 –1946), Pablo Picasso and other members of the elite literary figures and thinkers of the twentieth century:

Paris in the 1920s remained one of the most exciting, sophisticated cities in the world. Capital of the avant-garde in all its forms, the city played host to any number of intersecting artistic cliques including Modernists and Cubists, Dadaists and Futurists, Expressionists and Surrealists. These were the years of Picasso and Modigliani, Braque and Duchamp, Stravinski and Satie, Diaghilev and Cocteau. Radical developments in the visual and performing arts were mirrored in the Continental literature of the time, from the surrealist shock tactics of André Bréton and Guillaume Apollinaire, to the textual experimentation of Joyce and Beckett. It was into this vibrant, inspiring foment of idea and innovation that the self-imposed exiles of America’s “Lost Generation” flung themselves. Young radicals like Ernest Hemingway, Hart Crane, and Ezra Pound, and, a little later on, Henry Miller and Anais Nin, published some of their most powerful and controversial works in the city. (https://www.bl.uk/american-literature-in-europe/articles/the-lost-generation#sthash.FBrowLTT.dpuf)

The elite groups of intellectuals of the twenties, or what is called the lost generation, are Gil’s artistic models. The twenties is the aftermath of WWI and that generation had lived during the  war and witnessed its grim impact and how does it collapsed their dreams of a better world:

After decades of excitement and futurist dreams on both sides of the Atlantic—typified by the Great Exhibitions in London, Paris, and Chicago from 1851—the War reflected the dark, disturbing underside of technological invention. Some of the artists and authors who remained in Paris after the cessation of hostilities had served in this unprecedented clash of civilizations; others had reported on the events and the terrible political and humanitarian upheavals afterwards. (https://www.bl.uk/american-literature-in-europe/articles/the-lost- generation#sthash.FBrowLTT.dpuf)

Gertrude Stein was the patron of Hemingway and she was the one who called that group of intellects ‘the lost generation’: “In fact, it was Gertrude Stein—the scene’s abiding spirit and prominent literary hostess—who coined the phrase in conversation with Ernest Hemingway (“you are all a lost generation”)”.( https://www.bl.uk/american-literature-in-europe/articles/the-lost-generation 

Coming face to face with his best literary figures, Gil could overcome his anxieties about his ability to write a literary text. It is Stein who read for him. It was Hemingway who encouraged him and made him think about the essence of love. Katherine Fusco, in an article about the movie, argues: “that these practices reflect the tradition of modernist referentiality, which built meaning through citation of other works” in Owens). She asserts that T. S. Eliot in his theory of artistry implies that the artist cannot achieve his potential apart from the past. The past means the literary works and literary figures the writer refers to. In Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent”, he writes that: “No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone” and that the ‘significance ‘ of the artist is to be found in “the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists” (506). Fusco adds that:

Eliot’s use of the past both within his poetry and his literary criticism resonates with Allen’s citation of the individual ranging from Gertrude Stein to Cole Porter and art works ranging from Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ to Eliot’s own ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ (297) [Owens: 2015. 2017].

The inspired romantic American, Gil, undergoes a journey in which he re-achieves his self-confidence as a writer, and overcome his anxieties. He finds his true love, the woman who is his equal, and settles down in Paris as he had long yearned  to do. His was both magical and realistic, which enabling the audience to witness the dialectic process of artistic creation.


“Allen, Woody.” The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th ed. 2016. Questia. Web. 1 Apr. 2017. 

Owens, Joana. “Tradition and the Individual Artist: Reflections on Modernism in Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog.” Post Script 35.1 (2015): 3+. Questia. Web. 1 Apr. 2017.

The “Lost Generation” , in https://www.bl.uk/american-literature-in-europe/articles/the-lost-generation Retrieved in 6- 4- 2017.

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