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The Twilight Zone is well known for being a highly renowned piece of popular culture that has inspired countless numbers of other television shows and films since its debut. One of the many films that the show has inspired is Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. The film takes after an episode of The Twilight Zone titled, “A Stop at Willoughby” as both pieces revolve around a middle-aged man who is desperate to escape the pressures of modern day life. Both stories focus on one theme where the separate protagonists find their own kinds of fantasylands that take them back to an era before their time, seemingly void of all responsibilities. The common theme from “A Stop at Willoughby” and Midnight in Paris, is timelessly relevant in popular culture because of its social commentary and relatable nature.
“A Stop at Willoughby” and Midnight in Paris, share their theme of a desire to escape modern stresses by venturing into the past, making it timelessly relevant to popular culture because of its social commentary. Both stories criticize the present for being too stressful and leading the main characters into crisis. In “A Stop at Willoughby” the audience is introduced to the main character Garth, while he is in the midst of a particularly bad day in his career as an advertising executive and also sees the pressure his wife puts on him at home. The entire episode revolves around Garth as he struggles to keep up with the pressures of modern life, his only temporary escape being the fantasyland he travels to on his train home from work. The social commentary in this episode is meant to bring attention to the fact that modern life is making people miserable. Garth’s escape is being sent back into a simple town called Willoughby he finds when he falls asleep on the train. By the end of the episode, we see Garth make the choice to stay in his fantasy, which leads him to escape reality by jumping off the train to get to Willoughby, thereby ending his life. This is a significant criticism of modern society because the audience sees Garth being choked by his modern career centered life the demand to provide for his wife, and from this it is easy to see why Garth chooses his fantasy over realities of modern life in the end. This theme is still relevant in popular culture today because social commentary about the negative effects of modern society are still extremely relevant today with no signs of changing. Fifty years after this Twilight Zone episode aired, this theme is still prevalent as seen in the film Midnight in Paris.
Similarly, in Midnight in Paris, protagonist Gil is also facing career pressures and added relationship stress that causes him to yearn for an escape, eventually sending him into the past via a magical car ride through the streets of Paris. This film goes deeper into exploring why the protagonist is obsessed with escaping into the past instead of only looking at how modern pressures are driving him there. Throughout the film, Gil spends most of his time trying to access his fantasyland in the past, which for him is Paris in the early 1900’s, until he learns in the end that the only way he can fix his reality is to alter the way he lives in it. Instead of embracing his fantasy like Garth, Gil decides to give up how he was previously living in favor of a more simple lifestyle, and therefore giving up what modern society values while still existing in its reality. Both stories share a negative social commentary on modern society despite being made half a century apart, proving that the shared theme of escaping modern pressures to go into the past is timelessly relevant in popular culture.
Furthermore, “A Stop at Willoughby” and Midnight in Paris, use the same theme of desiring to be in an earlier era in hopes of eliminating modern stresses, which shows its timeless pop cultural relevance because it is a universally relatable theme. During the online discussion about “A Stop at Willoughby” most every student agreed that everyone has their own happy place to escape the pressures of modern life. Although the answers to the discussion questions did not often specify that their escape would be a place in the past, the general need for a quiet and relaxing place shows how individuals can relate to both stories of escaping into an easier environment. Likewise, in Midnight in Paris, Gil finds himself in a past era to escape his hectic life in the present, but unlike Garth he learns that fantasies should stay just that, a fantasy. One character tells Gil, “Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is golden age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in – it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.” Gil is told this in the beginning of the film by an enemy of his and completely brushes off his comment. It is not until the very end of the movie when he goes back even farther in time with a friend he made in the 1920’s that he sees this hold true. This quote is definitely something that any audience can relate to because in the real world it is not possible to physically travel back in time to escape present stresses. Many people rely on nostalgia and fantasies about the past in order to get through their daily lives and therefore it will always seem better because no one is physically living in the past during the present. Gil makes the decision to move on from the past he had considered staying in, and parts ways with the world he loved after seeing that it too had its problems. Gil learning this lesson is significant because the audience has been struggling with him to decide between the easier past and stressful present, which is something that any individual who has wanted to go back to more simple times can relate to. The theme in both stories of the need to escape the stresses of reality by exploring the past is permanently ingrained in popular culture because it is so easy put oneself in the characters’ places.
In conclusion, The Twilight Zone episode “A Stop at Willoughby” and Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris share a common theme that is cemented in popular culture. The films focus on the protagonists being affected by the pressures of modern society, leading them to find escape in fantasylands that are set in the past. The social commentary and relatable nature of both stories are what have kept this theme relevant in popular culture for so long and what make both of these pieces modern classics. Both characters learn different lessons as their stories end, but what the audiences takes away from the theme seen in each story is what matters.
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