Before Midnight

Before Midnight ★★★★★

Notes for "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love"
6/?

***

If you want true love, then this is it. This is real life. It’s not perfect, but it’s real.

***

PREFACE: all right so I don’t like tagging things as spoilers and I feel like this isn’t REAAAALLY spoiler-y but I do talk about some things that maybe are spoilers idk this is my warning okay thanks —

I don’t want to write this. Everything I could write will come up short. I just ask that if you haven’t seen this trilogy, you do; if you have seen it before, watch it again. I know it’s not for everyone. For the people who it is for, it isn’t easy, especially this movie, to sit through. I think it might be the opposite of uncanny valley: it’s unsettling not because it’s almost human, but because it’s too human. This is a movie about us. And our loved ones. And the people we have lost. And the people we have yet to meet. And the people we hate. And the people who hurt us or broke our hearts or helped us to get better or who complement us or who love us, conditionally and unconditionally. I feel like a fucking dick tool asshole piece of shit when I say that I think this film is universal — because inherently it isn’t, it’s very a much a Western-centric, privileged trilogy — but… the very human emotion in this? I think that’s universal. Love and time and life. It’s what gets us all. It’s what keeps us going. And so it goes. All right. Anyway.

***

That’s the thing that fucks us up, right? This the idea of a soulmate, of someone who will come to complete us and save us from having to take care of ourselves…

***

That first opening shot hit me hard. We know who’s legs those belong to even before that slow pan up: it’s going to be Jesse and his son. But… I don’t know. Jesse’s son is still such a baby, but really, he’s startlingly old, too. As terrible as it is, he’s a reminder that yes, eighteen years have passed since Before Sunrise.
And there’s Jesse, eighteen years older and… God. His hair’s different. He’s got that same stupid facial hair. He mentions Skype, and it’s weird how “Skype” both dates this movie and makes it seem lightyears ahead of whatever dream Before Sunrise is. Two minutes into Before Midnight, and Linklater’s got us entrenched in the thick of this heavy reality that was always in our peripherals during Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.

Time has passed. Things have changed. And watching this, I realized I’m 20 years old, and time’s doing that weird thing where I realize I’m the oldest I’ve ever been, and with each passing second I’m also moving away from the youngest I’ll ever be again. There’s this very palpable fear of mine about becoming old. I don’t know what “old” is, because again, Jesse is older but his son, who’s what, 13? seems old to me, too. Maybe I’m less afraid of becoming old and more afraid of time compressing and contracting and racing towards some sort of daunting & definitive collapse. I realize none of this is about love explicitly… but let’s not kid ourselves, time is the very crook that loves hinges upon. We want to find The One because there’s only so much time. We get stuck on people and lose time. We recollect and recreate moments that immortalize the past and direct the future, coloring the present irrevocably. Who we love, what we love, how we love: it only matters because inevitably we’re going to die someday. By and large it seems like love is the universal push against the effectual truth of how temporary we all are. Maybe it’s fruitless, it’s pointless, it’s meaningless: but it’s also all we’ve got. And so we go on.

***

It’s not the love of one person that matters, it’s the love of life.

***

When Anna and Achilleas are talking about how they first met… I don’t know if it’s weirder for us, the audience, watching what is essentially Before Sunrise being reiterated, or if it’s weirder for Jesse and Celine, who are hearing the most pivotal night of their lives retold and replayed out by two new and younger characters. Anna and Achilleas are like Jesse and Celine, but they also could never become them. Time has granted them the privilege of Skype and texting and calling and emailing and sexting. Technology facilities love and intimacy differently. In 1994, Jesse and Celine could’ve written each other, they could’ve exchanged phone numbers, but it was romantic that they didn’t. If Anna and Achilleas had done that in 2015, it would’ve just been stupid. And so Anna and Achilleas’s get to go down a path that Jesse and Celine didn’t. They’re also more practical about their love: they know they won’t last. Anna’s parents are divorced. Achilleas says his parents might as well be separated. They say this before Jesse and Celine, who sacrificed their entire lives for one another, and who we now have to watch grapple at fraying threads in an effort to keep their relationship from unravelling.

***

The sun somehow makes him vanish, he appears, he disappears, like a sunrise or a sunset or anything so ephemeral… just like our life. We are here, and we disappear, and we are so important to some, but we are just passing through.

***

There’s so much to say, but surprise surprise, not enough room or time to say it all. So quickly: Jesse and Celine trying to get out of spending the night in the hotel room is a gross but also authentic reality check. Young Jesse and Celine would never shirk that opportunity. Hell, maybe even Jesse’s fictional characters wouldn’t give that up. But they’ve matured, and they’re both tired, and I just think it’s really real that Linklater wrote them as trying to get out of having a night alone together.

When they are together… good God. Maybe I’ll write some other time about their fight(s), but for now I’ll just say that when Celine tests Jesse — you set me up to fail, true, true — it’s unfair, it’s unromantic, but… there’s something uncomfortably genuine about Celine’s insecurity or need for reassurance. It’s not that Celine wasn’t ever insecure or didn’t need something in the other films. It’s just that now her insecurity isn’t individual, it’s a fundamental element in their relationship.

And then, later: Henry’s call — the cellphone — is what breaks their intimate spell. They were almost back to who and what they used to be, before the twins, before they got older, before love was burdened and heavy. I have a weird relationship with technology: I use it a lot but it makes me so fucking anxious sometimes. I’m not going to go on a “cellphones are RUINING our LIVES” tirade, because I don’t inherently agree with that exaggerated statement, but I do think it’s interesting that something that was so entirely absent from Before Sunrise is now the thing that breaks and disrupts the magic in Before Midnight.

***
I never noticed until today, but all of the red in your beard is gone.

***

I’ve seen and talked to multiple people who think Celine’s irrational during their big fight. My father said Linklater wrote her to be too much of a “bitch.” I disagree. I think this says too much about me that I sympathize so deeply with her. I mean, I know rationally she’s overreacting. She jumps to conclusions that aren’t true and seem like a reach. But I recognize the guilt and the worry and the neurosis she carries that drives her to make such claims.

This is a film not directly about love. This is a film about the crisis of time, and in the fallout of that oppressive panic is the disillusionment of “perfect, effortless” love.

***

I am giving you my whole life, okay? I’ve got nothing larger to give. I’m not giving it to anybody else.

***

There’s something this time around that I don’t think I understood the first time I saw this. Jesse, who in Before Sunrise seems so worried about the future and what he’s going to make of himself, has settled into that worry. He’s older now, and I think he still has this insatiable crave for greatness and for praise and for recognition… but I think he’s accepted that there’s an itch he can’t scratch. Celine, on the other hand, can’t figure out where her itch is, let alone come to peace with it. Her worries manifest in a reversed projection of the self. She misreads everything Jesse does, misunderstands everything Jesse says, because she is misguided and disoriented in her own neurosis. Jesse’s made peace with his limits. Celine believes she’s expected to have no limits: and who can blame her entirely? Jesse fictionalized her and maybe he thought he was being true to her when he wrote her as a character in his books, but watching people praise and worship her and see her as the goddess he did — we never see ourselves the way others do, but I imagine Celine certainly doesn’t see herself as divinely as Jesse wrote her. That’s a pressure she can’t quell herself. That’s a pressure no one can really fix, I guess. It’s something we can bear better when we’re younger and more reckless and have less responsibilities. We answer the call of greatness with a thin belief that maybe we are invincible. But as time gets smaller and things start going by quicker and quicker and quicker, suddenly there’s no more room for maybe. Lasting love isn’t built upon perhaps.

***

Still there. Still there. Still there. Still there. Gone.

***

I hope I’m not naive for believing that Before Midnight ultimately ends on a hopeful note. It is not a happy ending, but it isn’t tragic. Their marriage does not actually fall apart. There’s no guarantee for how long it will last, if it will last, but for now, this one night… it’s theirs again. Jesse and Celine’s. It’s not a night like in Before Sunrise, and it’s never going to be as beautiful and light as it was in Before Sunset, but it’s their night nonetheless.

It’s so shocking to me to really see how much Jesse has matured. He really sort of was the Original Art School Fuck Boy in the first Before film, and he’s still a bit of a pest in Before Sunset, but… I don’t know. There’s something really authentic about his devotion to Celine. I remember the first time I saw this, I was convinced he slept with Emily, and I was fucking devastated. Now, I still think he slept with Emily… but I’ve also grown up a bit, and I think I’m very much disenfranchised with the whole monogamy thing, which!!! Is not to say I am condoning cheating!!!!!!!!!!! But I think this is a really important thing ABOUT monogamy: that being with someone for the fucking long haul requires work, and every day together is a choice, and that choice needs transparency. If Before Midnight really does end on a hopeful note, I hope that Jesse and Celine’s relationship grows from it, and they’re more transparent and honest with each other… which. I don’t know. I like to think they’re capable of it. I like to think they can, and will, do it. I believe that. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe that’s okay.

This ended up being a lot more about time and life and I think a lot of my own anxieties than ~love~ but oh well. This is novella-length now so I’m cutting myself off but good gravy. Nothing will really ever touch this trilogy in terms of my love, respect, and admiration for what Linklater’s created. Goddamn.

***

I love the way you sing. I fucked up my whole life because of the way you sing.

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