Before ‘Before Midnight’
The first time I watched Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, I was in Penang with my girlfriend. We were in a spooky hotel that gave us both the creeps, though we both tried pretending it wasn’t the case. She was fast asleep, and I was wide awake, so I borrowed her tiny notebook and looked for a movie to watch. This was in March 2012, and I was about to be done with National Service.
I was enthralled throughout both movies: boy meets girl, boy and girl have lots of chemistry, explore a beautiful town, have lots of great conversation, sex under the stars and then are separated– promising to meet again.
9 years pass, both for the actors and the characters– but not for me, because I have both movies at my finger tips. I eagerly witness the passage of time. (This is something I also enjoy and recommend about the Rocky movies, and is the one thing I liked about Interstellar).
I watch as Jesse and Celine go from “cute, naively idealistic couple that’s younger than us” to “slightly aged and weathered couple older than us”. They’re meeting for the first time in 9 years. I find myself thinking, what would it be like to be separated from my girlfriend, and to meet her again a decade later? We HAD actually separated for a couple of years in our teens, and so it was interesting to witness Jesse and Celine being first a little formal with one another before progressing to opening up about the pains and frustrations of their respective lives.
The movie ends with a promise– that this time they’re not going to made the mistake they made before.
6 months after I first watched the first two films, Before Midnight is announced. 3 months after that, me and my girlfriend get married. The film gets released 6 months later, and me and my wife eagerly re-watch the earlier films to prepare to catch our favorite on-screen couple 9 years on.
Here’s what happened– Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy got together and they kicked us in the balls. And they did it pretty damn well, too. I have to begrudgingly respect how well they did it, while rolling on the floor in pain, crying “Why?” (Life: “Because fuck you, that’s why.”)
See, it turns out that Jesse and Celine are pretty unhappy with themselves, each other and their marriage. They have a bunch of issues without clear solutions – Jesse’s unhappy at being away from his son (from his first marriage) and wants to move, but Celine doesn’t.
They hang out and chat with some friends for a while, and then they get to the hotel room that their friends paid for– and just when you’re sorta expecting a romantic, intimate, happy love scene, they spiral into a destructive, venomous conflict. They both clearly know how how to hurt each other, and they deliberately make the decision to do it– over and over again.
“Guys, stop,” we found ourselves mouthing to the screen. “No, please, don’t do that.” Neither of them denies cheating when the other accuses them of it– which was particularly painful to witness.
When my wife and I watched the movie, we had been married for 6 months, and we were really hoping to see something promising and encouraging. 6 months from now, we’ll be celebrating our 4th anniversary – almost reaching the halfway point of Jesse and Celine’s marriage. And it’s interesting to pay attention to my feelings now about what I saw.
When I first watched it, I thought it was horrible that two people who were so smart and thoughtful and kind would end up having such a rough relationship. Three years later, I realize that that’s actually the likeliest outcome. Relationships are hard. Marriage is even harder. Tonnes of marriages end in divorce, and many of those that don’t are so miserable that everyone (including people outside of them) would be better off if they did.
Jesse and Celine didn’t make the mistake of missing out on each other after Before Sunset, but they certainly made lots of other mistakes in the time since. But what ultimately happens to them isn’t the worst thing that happens to people. It’s just life.
Before Midnight is a good film, if painful to watch.
I recommend it. It tells a story that you don’t always hear– that sometimes you can try your best and still end up with something that’s difficult and painful.
The movie certainly got bleaker and darker than I was ready for. It tried to end on a positive note, but I can’t help but get the sense that it’s not quite enough. That their wounds go too deep to be patched up by sharing a joke and a laugh.
But I suppose that’s the thing about life. It doesn’t wait for you to be ready, and things don’t get patched up the way you wish they would.
A part of me really hopes that there’s going to be another sequel; that in another 6 years we will see Jesse and Celine again, older, hopefully wiser, kinder, mended. Maybe they’ll be separated. I just hope they’ll be friends. But we don’t always get what we want.