Midnight in Paris, A Pirate Looks at 40, and the Power of Nostalgia

As we hit a holiday weekend, many of you will probably find a couple of hours over the next few days to pop some popcorn and settle in with a movie. While I am not in the habit of recommending many movies, I do want to focus the spotlight on one in particular . . . not because the movie is so great (though I DID enjoy it), but because the message is so profound.

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris illustrates an important truth that every Christian needs to recognize – namely, the deceptive power of Nostalgia.

Midnight in Paris tells the story of a couple visiting Paris who find their impending marriage in big trouble, because the groom-to-be finds an odd portal in 1920’s Paris, where he is able to meet heroes such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. And the more time he spends in the past, the less satisfied he becomes with the present.

In his EXCELLENT blog post on this movie, Russell More wrote:

The central character believes he is somehow out of place in the twenty-first century. He thinks his life would be better if only he were born into the magical time of the Paris of the 1920s artistic and literary renaissance. This is a fairly common feeling. Jimmy Buffett, in his iconic song “A Pirate Looks at Forty” reflects on something of the same experience:

“Yes I am a pirate, two hundred years too late/
The cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothin’ to plunder/
I’m an over-forty victim of fate/
Arriving too late, arriving too late”

What the protagonist in this movie discovers, however, is that a change in time doesn’t negate the pull to nostalgia. He finds that the people he meets in 1920s Paris are nostalgic too, for what they perceive as golden ages before their times.

The pull of “the good ‘ole days” intices us all. Somehow, the past becomes romanticized in our memories, so that the pain disappears and we hold onto everything that was right . . . and in so many ways, that is good. Otherwise, no woman would ever have a second baby. No heart-broken lover would ever open his heart again. No one would ever take risks, or second-chances, or maybe even forgive. So thank God for good memories that rise to the surface.

But there is a GREAT danger in romantizing in the past to the point that we retreat into it. When we live with our eyes in the rear-view mirror, we risk moving forward with no purpose or conviction. We risk living without direction, or meaning, or joy. We risk living without freedom.

I say that because often, it is fear that compels us to turn around and run back where it seems safe. I guess that’s because the past always seems so much simpler. When we were children, we were given very simple, elementary rules to keep, and if we did them, things just turned out. Now, as adults, life feels much more complex. The issues are not so clear, and the decisions are more agonizing. So when we become weary of the complexity of life and turn backwords, we find ourselves yearning for the good ‘old days.

The problem – we aren’t those people anymore. We are no longer children. We have grown and (hopefully) matured, and we have so much more freedom than we had then. Of coures, freedom carries the price tag of responsibility. Don’t shirk that. Rejoice in it. Look backwards and remember God’s faithfulness. Look around you and see how He is at work today. Then look forward with hope and confidence, knowing that the same God who held your past also holds your future, and has great plans for you!

One more thought – part of the yearning that we have inside of us may be a recognition that things are still not as they should be. Moore writes:

Our tendency is to ignore the grace and glory of the present, and to ignore the brutality and banality of the past. That’s true enough. But somewhere in all our nostalgic impulses is, I think, something rooted in the gospel itself.

“Memory is hunger,” Hemingway said, and I think he’s right. Our warm memories, of times we have known or of times we wish we’d known, point us to a deep longing within us for a world made right.

“We all feel nostalgia, and, often, we realize that this nostalgia is all too illusory. But that doesn’t mean we should squelch it. We are made for nostalgia for the future.

I highly recommend Midnight in Paris, if for nothing more than the conversatinos it can elicit. And I recommend Russell Moore’s blog to you, too.

I hope you all have a terrific weekend!

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