Passing Through: Thoughts on “Before Midnight”

“You know what’s going on here? It’s simple. I don’t think I love you anymore.” — Celine (Julie Delpy) to Jesse (Ethan Hawke) in Before Midnight

Ouch. That’s got to hurt. By the time Before Midnight reached the closing credits, I wasn’t sure if Celine meant what she said, but in saying it, she drove home a point the film — the third part of the Richard Linklater-directed trilogy (so far) that began with 1995’s Before Sunrise and continued with 2004’s Before Sunset — had spent its first hour and 35 minutes making: Nothing lasts forever. So why should love be any different?

If disappointment and detours were central themes of Before Sunset, the ephemeral nature of love, life and youth is a running one throughout Before Midnight. It contrasts nicely with the movie’s extended scenes, long continuous single takes, and conversations that meander aimlessly, sidestepping the main topic before zeroing in on it with remarkable precision.

There’s nothing fleeting about the way Before Midnight is constructed, but then so much about the movie is. It’s in Jesse’s concerns about his son growing up too quickly, not right before his eyes but in Chicago, so far from Paris. It’s in Celine’s recurring commentary on both her and Jesse’s middle-aged 41-year-old appearances — how they’re no longer the sweet young things they were in 1994.

It’s all over the dinner-table conversation — in the year-old romance of the twentysomething couple (the social-media age’s version of Jesse and Celine, who, had Skype been around in 1994, probably would have stayed in touch and tired of each other long before Sunset), in the young lady’s comment about whether love that lasts forever is still relevant and how all couples eventually break up, in the older lady’s lamentation over her slowly fading memories of her late husband and the way it evolves into a monologue about the temporal nature of sunrise, sunset and life.

It’s in six-week summer holidays in Greece that end too soon (for Jesse and his son) or can’t end quickly enough (for Celine). It’s in Jesse’s talk about the passion of his young self and his writer friends as he and Celine are walking to the hotel. It’s in reservations for one night in swanky suites with AC, in hour-long massages for two. It’s in the times of day that give the film and its predecessors their titles. But most of all, it’s in the bombshell that Celine drops on Jesse before exiting their hotel suite for the second time.

It’s the end of an intense argument that’s as exhausting to watch as it must have been to have. Who was wrong? Who was right? Clearly Celine, true to her complicated, insecure Before Sunset form, was picking a fight, but she made some excellent points, as did Jesse.

“If you want true love then this is it. This is real life. It’s not perfect, but it’s real, and if you can’t see it then you’re blind.” — Jesse to Celine

Do Jesse and Celine ride off into the midnight together? We might have to wait until sunset rolls around again to find out. But if they don’t, look at all that’s come out of their ephemeral love — not just their beautiful 7-year-old twin daughters.

And that is the glory of  love, life, youth and Before Midnight. Great movies, like love, life and youth, don’t last forever, but what matters is that they happen at all.

1 Comment

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One response to “Passing Through: Thoughts on “Before Midnight”

  1. Well, maybe I am a bit optimistic. It’s true that we are in and out of each other’s life all the time and soulmates cross path. However, I find something in common in all the points they make. At the table, the young lady’s great grandmother’s marriage ended because of death of the husband, same with the old lady who talked about love/life being like sunset and sunrise, same with the old man. And then on the way to hotel, how Jesse brought up the news of death of his grandmother and talked about their marriage last till they died. Then Celine brought up the Pompei scene, raising the question of life/love being eternal only in the captured moment. Then they talk about attending Celine’s funerals in future? I guess the points they make is you never know if love will last or not until you two walk to the nearly end of the road. If not, then it does not matter, we just let go. If the spouse dies, then we miss them but does not mean it’s the end of the world. I am a person who believes in reincarnation. We live in the eternal cycle that we call ‘life’. Just like sunset, sunrise, they exchange roles, but they dont vanish from the world.

    The film offers a glimpse of light into what seems to be grey. At the very beginning, Celine always tried to say things she did not mean that tried to pissed Jesse off like how he was not her first love/connection. How she does not want to die with him if they were living in the time of Pompei tragedy. Finally she said ‘I dont think I love you anymore’? This is different from ‘I dont love you anymore’. why does she think she does not love him anymore? it is because we have expectations of each other in a marriage, if the other turn out to be not what we expect them to be or we realise that we cannot change them, then they will think that oh, this must not be the same person I fell in love with the first place, or think that he is not the same after marrying, well, they are exactly the same person (on the way to hotel, Celine talked about the letter Jesse wrote to his 40 year old self.And talked about how he hardly changed, the core of self is the same). I guess it’s Celine’s expectations of Jesse that made her say ‘I dont think i love you anymore.’ which is hardly true by the way she acted. Leaving the room and coming back several times, and did sit down on the sofa and talked calmly for a while and touch each other when arguing. You can see that either one of them wants to give up. If couples argue like that, love is still there.

    Well, love, life, youth might not last forever but we are all trying to work things out. love? understanding each others views and argue like them. Life? trying to see the lessons and improve life or use limited time to reach your goals. youth? hello, are we all not using skin care and doing exercise?

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