I have this new theory. It’s not based in anything really, but tell me if you agree. This post is going to be rather extensive in its scope, as I attempt to critique a Woody Allen film, present a theory on memories, and include a Biblical basis for all of it.
The theory is this: Every time you think back to a memory from your own past, you are not thinking directly back to the event itself; you are thinking of the last time you thought of it. You are recalling the feelings, emotions, and colors present the last time you thought of the previous memory. For example, the summer of 2007 was the greatest time of my life. Every day was painted with scenes from the best romantic comedies, mixed with endless East coast adventures, and wrapped in the blanket of my three best friends and I doing everything together.
Now, for the sake of explanation, let’s say I have thought of this summer five times since it happened. By that, I mean I really thought about it and everything that happened over those three months. So, whenever my mind glances in the rearview mirror to that time period, I have to access it through the tunnels of the previous five times I thought of it. In other words, my mind must take a detour through all the times I have recalled it before, rather than taking a highway directly to the events themselves. When this occurs, I also see the summer of ’07 through the fog of all the emotions I had the other five times I thought of it. In this situation, the typical emotion held toward that summer is nostalgia and a longing to go back. In reality, I am sure that there were parts of the summer that were not so great, but because of the detours through my other memories, I can’t see them now. I am convinced that there were things happening in my life that were not enjoyable, or decisions that did not turn out my way, or some other longings I was entertaining at the time. In this way, the memories only get blurrier and blurrier as an icon from my life of a time when things were perfect.
Woody Allen explored this phenomena in his film Midnight in Paris, and dubbed the occurrence ‘Golden Age Thinking.’ Now some readers of my blog may see this review as an excuse to talk once more about the dazzling Marion Cotillard. You would not be wrong. However, Allen presents a few compelling ideas in this piece. Owen Wilson plays Gil; a romantic screenwriter who daydreams about seeing Paris in the 1920’s when it is raining. Somehow, he gets his wish when on a walk one night in Paris and a cab full of old-timey people pulls up and invites him in. He enters and is taken back to the time of Hemingway, Dali, Picasso, and Cole Porter. He is in love with the time. Every night, he returns to the enchanted time of the 20’s, and every morning returns to his drag of a fiancee. Soon after the time travels begin, he meets the mysteriously beautiful Adriana (Cotillard), the supposed muse of Picasso and Hemingway, and is smitten. After a couple nights spent wandering in and out of parties and the streets of Paris in the 1920’s, Adriana reveals that she would much rather live in the time of la Belle Epoque; about a century earlier. They travel back in time even further, this time by magical horse drawn carriage, to the 1890’s. Adriana is overjoyed and wants to stay there rather than in her own time; the 1920’s.
One of the main ideas Allen is conveying here is that everyone has a time they view as the ‘Golden Age;’ the time when nothing was wrong and everything was perfect and alive and beautiful. Even people living in our own personal golden ages. I’m sure that the Ethan living in the summer of 2007 was longing for some time other than the one he was in then, just as the Ethan writing this now does.
Someone else took note of this empty yearning that every human has, several millennia prior to Woody. The wisest man alive, in fact. I know I have used this scripture before, but that’s because I find it so central to the human experience that to overlook it is pure foolishness. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that “He has placed eternity on the hearts of men.” How many of you long for THAT? How many of you have ever said to yourself, “Boy, I wish I could just go back to forever, when everything was good and okay?” We can’t even fathom eternity, therefore, we cannot even comprehend longing for it. C.S. Lewis is famously quoted in his short piece “The Weight of Glory” for writing, “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.” The kind of desire that each one of us has is placed in us for a reason–not to bring us to satisfaction in the promising, yet empty, objects of the world, but in Him alone! There’s a reason that every human being has an unquenchable thirst for another time period, place, or group of friends. We have eternity planted in our hearts. We wants things we can’t even comprehend. This is why the past looks perfect to us only from one side, hindsight, and the present is always left unsatisfied.
Find your nostalgia and dwell in it. Dwell in a nostalgia for the present; for the time you have been placed in right now. This is not a call to lose hope because you will never be satisfied. Instead, it is the same conclusion Solomon came to in Ecclesiastes, to live in the moment and enjoy this life while you have it! You and I will never know what Paris was like in the 1920’s. But we will know what Colorado is like in the 2010’s; or what Brasil is like in the years after them, or Nigeria in the years after them.
Keep your eyes open, because you’ll soon be looking back on today and longing for it.