Midnight in Paris has been called Woody Allen’s best film in a long time, and I agree. This year, the romantic comedy won both the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay; and it was nominated for three other Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Direction, and Best Art Direction. Woody is one of the great creative minds of the last 100 years, with all of the quirkiness and controversy we expect to accompany this kind of platitude.
The main character, Gil (Owen Wilson), is a writer who reluctantly travels to present-day Paris with his baneful fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and future in-laws to discover a mysterious capacity to travel in time to the 1920s, an era he idolizes. He encounters Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, and others of the “Lost Generation,” including F. Scott Fitzgerald who takes him to meet Ernest Hemingway. In the film, Hemingway is almost cartoonish; his confidence and pretension playfully drawing our attention towards ‘Papa’, the icon of romantic masculinity, and away from the tortured, self-abusive artist who took his own life at 61.
Hemingway tells Gil: “All men fear death. It’s a natural fear that consumes us all. We fear death because we feel that we haven’t loved well enough or loved at all, which ultimately are one and the same.” Hemingway simultaneously faced and fled his fear death; facing as a reporter on the front lines of battle and in the front row of bullfights, and fleeing in the anesthetizing effects of inebriation and international travel. Freud would find none of this behavior surprising, positing that our fear of death, or perhaps of how well we love or are loved, drives more of our behavior than we care to admit. Love and death are intertwined. “For God so loved…” We are confronted with difficult possibilities: Does God’s love require violence?
The opportunity before us is to embrace life; to breathe it in deeply. Hemingway appears to have found it difficult to embrace the fullness of his life, despite his adventures and bravado. As thrilling as boxing might have been, no amount of physical exertion could tame the demons who robbed him of joy. Perhaps some of us would trade places with Papa. I certainly admire his adventures and accomplishments. Yet, his approaches to ‘facing’ death lacked the courage frequently attributed to him. Ultimately, his final act exposes him.
Alternatively, Jesus’ embracing of life includes a death instigated by great love, thus ushering in the possibility of a life of freedom to live and love without fear. A resurrection life. Perhaps staring death in the face on a shark hunt does not transform our fear of death, our fear “that we haven’t loved well enough or loved at all”. It is embracing our limitations, our ‘everyday deaths,’ and living with death, that freedom, new life, and resurrection emerges. Remember Ash Wednesday: from dust you have come, to dust you will return. Living well by loving well before death, not after death.