Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Are you living in the right age?

Two nights ago I watched the movie Midnight in Paris, where a writer on vacation in Paris travels back in time to the 1920s and meets his literary and artistic heroes. 

Throughout the movie Gil, the writer, encounters all sorts of interesting and crazy characters, and it was tough for me to catch all the references, especially since the actors flow from English to French to Spanish and back.  But the main point of the movie was Gil felt he was born in the wrong time.  Talking with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway and listening to Cole Porter led Gil to the idea that he would have been happier in the 1920s than with his current life in 2011.

Have you ever met anyone that felt this way? That they were better suited to live in another age? Or have you met someone and thought to yourself that they would have happier in a different time?

It's interesting that some people seem to embody or even define their age, while others never seem to fit.  For example, Jane Austen so closely examined the manners and social habits of her era that she not only recorded them, she seemed to define them.  F. Scott Fitzgerald didn't just write about the Roaring 20s, he lived them and is an ideal yet sad representative of the Lost Generation.  Whereas Fitzgerald's contemporary, Hemingway, wrote through many decades without really getting locked into one time period.

On the other hand, you have people like Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan and other fantasy characters.  Howard wrote of distant lands, ancient kingdoms and violent hand-to-hand combat with energy and realism.  And yet he grew up in rural Texas and never travelled outside that state.  For the people that knew him, he was a man out of his proper time, better suited for an age of swords and horses than trains and typewriters.

Or consider Patrick O'Brian, who wrote nautical adventures set during the Napoleonic Wars.  O'Brian's work evokes the period in amazing detail, and the author so immerses himself in the past that you wonder if he might have been happier sailing on a three-masted ship with the wind at his back rather than sitting at a writing desk in a cottage in France.

I won't spoil the end of the movie, in case you decide to watch it.  It is well worth your time, but the questions it raises may bring a sense of sadness.  For if you feel you were born into the wrong age, there's nothing you can do about it other than escape into the pages of good book.

My suggestion? When Midnight in Paris ends, immediately watch another movie.  I watched Fast Five--two hours of beautiful women, exotic cars and insane stunts--and went to bed smiling.

The alternative, as my friend Tony would say, is ennui.

(The Internet MovieDatabase provided a helpful list of the characters from Midnight in Paris, as well as the movie poster.)


  1. Howard actually travelled outside Texas: he visited New Orleans, Carlsbad and Santa Fe. He never travelled outside North America, though.

  2. Hello Taranaich, thanks for the correction. I didn't realize he'd taken those trips. I wonder if he visited the caverns in Carlsbad? I haven't seen them, but I imagine they'd be inspirational.

    Thanks for contributing!