Arts, Movies, Featured Column

Looking Into the Past, Wishing I Was There

Time is the biggest distraction of all. Transfixed by the finite majesty of the past, I find myself neglectful of the future. Just as sound can be a distraction from our present state in the world, so too can an idea of another time dampen the candles of thought we ought to hold to the future.

I recently watched Midnight in Paris (2011) for the first time. Given my apparent Francophilia, I was surprised myself that I had not yet seen it. Even so, the impact the film and its simple message had on me was, as it was for so many others, profoundly inspiring. Treading on symbolic ground that modern man is all too familiar with, the film still comes away claiming that there is no time like the present.

Thematically, there is not a sense of profundity within the film. The story sees its characters discontent as they deal with the ails of their own slice of time. Wistfully looking back to the past, they feel their kindred spirits would be better suited for another time altogether. One yearns to mingle with the Lost Generation in the swinging streets of Paris during the Roaring ’20s. Another looks even further back, into the Belle Epoque at the turn of the 20th century, where antiquity made way for modernity.

In all cases, it is made painfully clear that such yearning for another time is a ceaseless notion, as peoples everywhere look to the past as the solution for their contemporary misfortune and heartache.

I found that I was guilty of much the same kind of flawed mentality, where I misplaced my hopes in the past. For me, the past was comforting because it was contained and finite. All I had to do was wish to be a part of it, as I placed myself in the concert halls, at old movie premieres, and contemplating the history du jour. The past exists as an unmoving monolithic entity (hopefully, it won’t be the victim of redaction). As such, people find comfort in its certainty and wholeness.

Period piece films, when elegantly executed, create that feel of a different time and place. Viewers, like myself, can be intoxicated by the allure of difference and stark tangible change. But I may fall victim to charming aesthetics, without having any actual connection the world I wish to inhabit.

But, at least before my birth,  I do not belong to the past. I can place myself into the pristine image I have in my head, but this is simply a fabrication of my mind. I do not belong to any place but the present. That being said, there is a certain amount of due reverence to be put in the image a society, culture, or nation that calls out to those beyond its years from the pages of history.

But there are greater reasons still to quell the longing to abandon the current age. We are the forbearers of our age, our generation, and our day. Living for today and in today is critical for our own personal sanity and for our future.

As each day passes, it is stamped in the permanent ink of time. There was only one Oct. 3, 1973. There was only one Jan. 7, 2004. There will be only one April 10, 2017. Once catalogued, processed, and filed away, our fingers can no longer reach to leave a mark on it or our voices another word.

I love being enchanted by different times. Everything seems different. I sometimes think even the air must have smelled different and wonder what scents the world would have carried.

But our job lies not in the past, but in the present. We will live in the 2020s and carry on stories, lives, and memories through them. One day people may very well refer to these years as the ’20s, hopefully with a cheeky prefix. We are the standard bearers for the years we have on this planet. For those living today, we might hope that people of the future may look back on our time and wish to have been a part of our small sliver of shared years, days, minutes, or seconds.

Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor

April 9, 2017