Friday, June 28, 2013

Before Midnight

The most refreshing aspect of Richard Linklater's BEFORE trilogy is the level of intimacy shared between Jesse, Celine, and the audience. In watching the first two films, it's easy to feel like Cupid or a fly on the wall that isn't buzzing around, annoying the shit out of everyone. Jesse and Celine's relationship wasn't ideal, but there's an obvious sense of romanticism involved ("TRUE LOVE, all else be damed," as John says).

This romanticism and intimacy is built up through communication. There's a hypnotic rhythm to their dialogue, usually quiet beautiful and poetic. They seem to belong together, and we want them to remain that way because of how naturally and seamlessly they connect.

So with the third film, BEFORE MIDNIGHT, it was necessary to test the limits of the relationship between Jesse, Celine, and the audience. And I know that Julie Delpy issued a warning about being able to handle a pair of boobs for this one, but I think it was the moment when Ethan Hawke started to undress her that I suddenly felt as if things we were getting too intimate, and especially after the clothes went back on and they began to fight. But maybe I was also reacting to the fact that the Art Mission Theater was packed with old couples and I didn't really want to watch a sex scene with them around me. I'm sorry, old people.

Anyway, we've watched these characters in two other films but this is the first time I felt uncomfortable watching them. So for that reason, I really have to tip my hat to Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke. Thinking back on Delpy's performance, it's really quite brilliant and is my favorite performance that I've seen from her.

The fight is brutal, though not spontaneous. There are plenty of little moments where Jesse and Celine take swipes at each other, and it seems to naturally build toward the moment in the hotel. But going back to the way they communicate with each other, I couldn't help but think that overall...this was a good fight. Well, I'm actually kinda torn on that one. But let me explain a bit. Reading Brandon's first post, I get the sense that he might agree with me here?? Couples fight; it's what they do. When you care about someone deeply and your relationship is "entangled in the lives of others" (another really nice line from John), negative emotions and feelings arise. Stress arises. When Jesse and Celine fight, it isn't much different from when they have a normal conversation. They both speak their minds freely and clearly, even though the more we say, the more likely we are to contradict ourselves. I don't me, the fight, as uncomfortable as it seemed, was healthy.

But while speaking your mind is good and all, if you can't "hear" what the other person is saying, then you're doomed as a couple. I said I was torn because I'm not exactly sure if Jesse and Celine have heard each other here. And this really is new territory for the audience. We've been left out of the last nine years of their relationship. Because they are still together, I can maybe assume that they do a decent job of listening to each other. I know John is focusing on Jesse's ex and notes that we only get a bastardized, word-of-mouth version of her, but I can't help but think the same can be said for the last nine years of this story in general.

Celine talks about what it was like raising their twin daughters by herself. Jesse seems to resent that interpretation of the story (or maybe it was about something else, I forget). Sure Jesse and Celine are in the film and can/do defend themselves, but that doesn't make any of what they say true. I understand where John's coming from, though, and it is a legitimate critique of the film. And I know you (John) understand that this has been the style of these films. We only get to see and hear Jesse and Celine in the moment.

Back to the fight being healthy...

Now I know Celine says that she doesn't think she loves Jesse anymore. It's tough to know how sincere she was. Was this something said through anger and annoyance? When people in relationships are hurt they tend to try and wound the other person in some way. We won't really know what Celine had in mind until the fourth film comes out...and I really hope there is a fourth film.

I also somewhat question Celine's decision to go into "Bimbo mode" just before the credits rolled. It was my fear that she was shutting down a bit. And probably I know that's bullshit and that I'm reading too much into it. She's too strong a person to just give up. I'm not trying to suggest that I think that Celine is now going to be more servile and docile...that she'll just say yes to Chicago and let Jesse win out. I guess I'm just saying that you can still voice your concerns and have a meaningful discussion without wanting to tear at the other person's throat. But right, after such an intense fight, it's probably best to end on a lighter note. I want Jesse and Celine to work this out and stay together, but I don't know, there's something about those final moments that make me feel a little pessimistic. I hope I'm wrong.

 Our audience seemed to chuckle and smile as Jesse's time traveler stunt seemed to work some magic. I couldn't bring myself to do the same. But I also recognize the realism of ending a fight in this way. You say hurtful things and get upset, you calm down, have some sex, go about your day and come back to the fight at a later time.

Other thoughts:

I also like Brandon's response to John's "ex-wife" criticism and felt the same way. It definitely comes across as adolescent to me. Hearing them call her "a drunk" and "abusive" didn't seem to register with me. It makes sense that they would both hate Jesse's ex, so of course they're going to revert to name calling. I understand, too, that those are some pretty serious accusations, but nonetheless, it comes off as exaggerated to me. Again, though, not everyone thinks what Brandon and I think, so you do have a point, John. But I also agree with Brandon's first paragraph in his "agreeing" post. Jesse and Celine are meant to be together, and at the very least, Jesse isn't meant to be with his ex.

I think John is right in suggesting that while it's never really called into question that they belong together, MIDNIGHT does a great job of broadening the scope of their relationship. But also, we can feel like they belong together, but that doesn't mean we'll always get what we want. In the end, Jesse and Celine have important decisions to make that we won't get to see or be a part of. Hopefully we'll get to see the aftermath of those decisions, though, nine years or so down the road.

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