What Midnight in Paris Teaches Us About Every Artist

This weekend, my wife and I went to see Midnight in Paris, starring Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams.

I was surprised by how much it inspired me as a writer and artist.

Midnight in Paris
Midnight in Paris, a film by Woody Allen

I dare say that it was the first Woody Allen film I thoroughly enjoyed. The score is definitively Parisian, the cinematography nostalgic, and the plot inventively clever. One reviewer wrote:

Midnight in Paris is a loving embrace of the city, of art and of life itself.

I couldn’t agree more. But what I loved about the movie is that it was made particularly for creatives. Here’s the plot in a nutshell:

  • A mismatched couple engaged to be married goes to Paris for vacation.
  • Aspiring novelist Gil (Wilson) spends his nights falling in love with the city, while his fiancee Inez (McAdams) criticizes his dreams.
  • One night as the clock strikes 12, Wilson’s character is transported back to the 1920s (his favorite era), meeting Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and others.
  • The protagonist ultimately must reconcile his passion for the past and living in the present, while being true to his calling as a writer.

While full of comic moments, Midnight in Paris makes a poignant commentary about the life of an artist.

Lessons about Art from Midnight in Paris

As a writer, I took great solace in how the film portrayed the basic struggles of artists and the inherent lessons in those struggles.

Paris Cityscape from Midnight in Paris
Paris cityscape from Midnight in Paris

Artists are misunderstood

Gil is not only misunderstood by Inez; he is disdained by her.

She and others regularly scoff at his lofty dreams of traveling and writing a novel. At best, he is tolerated by them.

This ultimately sends him searching.

We artists need to come to grips with the fact that to be creative is to be misunderstood, and at the same time temper this with the importance of not disconnecting ourselves entirely from the rest of the world.

We cannot inspire that which we are not a part of.

Artists are discontented

Gil is writing a novel about himself — it’s the story of a man who owns a nostalgia shop and cannot help but consider that to live in another time would be better, simpler.

Midnight in Paris
Gil, confused and discontented, from Midnight in Paris

When he finds himself in the company of those from that era, he finds that they, too, are longing for another “Golden Age.”

This struggle is what makes artists great. The longing for something more is what drives us to create transcendent works of art.

But it can also lead us to an an artist’s demise. Unchecked discontent can lead to unhealthy thrill-seeking (as with Picasso’s lust for new lovers and Hemingway’s obsession with adventure and alcohol).

Artists need community

The fact that Gil is so misunderstood and restless is what leads him to walk the streets of Paris at night.

When he finds a community of world-famous writers and artists that take him in, he learns two important lessons:

  1. He needs the companionship of others to be true to his voice as an artist.
  2. The community around him is not the right one.
Midnight in Paris
Gil in a mismatched community

He learns, as all artists must, the importance of embracing tension.

The main lesson?

You are not alone.

You, the brilliant artist, are not alone.

That’s the lesson every writer, painter, photographer, and film-maker must learn.

You, the creative person full of oddities and eccentricities that may have been the source of shame and embarrassment at one time, are not alone.

You, who feels so out of place in this world, are not alone.

The challenge

You must find a community that will encourage you, even if it means leaving the one to which you currently belong.

You must live in the tension of being misunderstood and dissatisfied with the way things are and being called to create art that inspires and leads people to believe in something more.

It is not an easy calling, but a noble one.

Further Reading: ‘Midnight in Paris,’ a Historical Review [NYTimes]

As an artist, do you feel alone? How do you deal with the tension of being different from the world but called to make a difference in it? Share your thoughts in the comments.

If this post resonated with you, you’d probably enjoy my free eBook: The Writer’s Manifesto

Get Midnight in Paris on Amazon. (affiliate link)