Directed by Richard Linklater
We meet Jesse and Celine nine years after their reunion in Paris, 18 years after their “star-crossed” collision on a train steaming towards Vienna. Now they are married, with two twins, and nine years of experiences together under their skin. The passion and exuberance they uncovered in Vienna has eroded. The two are haggard, eyes sunken, skin wrinkled, clothes dark, disillusions realized. Life has shaken them down.
Jesse feels like his marriage to Celine robbed him of a genuine relationship with the son from his first marriage. Celine believes she gave up her independence and her aspirations to hold on to her love with Jesse. Unlike their two previous encounters (where the two caught up on nine years of distance with brisk two hour conversations, filled with mammoth questions and philosophical musings in such temporal brevity) Jesse and Celine know one another’s stories from front to back, know what page each ends on, and which page it again begins. That passion discovered in Vienna, lived through day to day life has been shaven down from grand romantic decisions in Paris, to conversations about phone calls and flight plans.
When the two are finally given a time to breath, walking through agrarian Greece, in the sustained long take we are so familiar, they acknowledge this difference; finally being able to talk about themselves. Their relationship, where it started, and what it may or may not have deteriorated into being. They think of what 76 years together would become, who is going to die first, if their love is still a fraction of what it once was.
Their exchanges mirror that of any long term relationship. They know each others battle plans, how one another will respond to their attacks, disguised as questions. They accept one another for who they are, but truly want to change them for who they remember once to be. They hold onto that magic that they once felt when they were young, their skin tight, the whole world was thrilling, and experiences hadn’t beaten them down.
Although I have been in a relationship longer than the typical twenty year old, I can’t say I identify with Jesse or Celine, I don’t think anyone truly can. These two are not blank slates, like the typical film protagonist. They are not given three basic characteristics and then filled in by the life experience of the audience to inhabit. These two actors have created living breathing human beings, that we watch, but cannot be.
I was expecting Before Midnight to overwhelm me like the previous installments, but I was caught off guard by the dense melancholia this film created. What happens when passion is worn thin into dread. Beaten into two lovers quarreling in a hotel room with two untouched bottles of wine. Slamming doors, opening doors, denying their love ever existed. But underneath the sadness, underneath the monotony their life and every life possesses, their is the vivacious young couple still alive looking to be rediscovered just for a moment. I watched Before Midnight thinking at times “It’s still there…It’s still there…It’s still there…It’s still there”, but I am glad that at midnight I didn’t get to say the words “gone”.
I cant wait to watch this film when I’m forty.