Before Midnight (2013)

Before Midnight
Directed by Richard Linklater
According to imdb the characters are by Richard Linklater and Kim Krazan and the screenplay is by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke
(number 483)

This is the only one in the trilogy which I had never seen before (9 years on from the last one). It opens with Ethan Hawke saying goodbye to the boy he said he had in the last movie, and I couldn’t help but try and make him the kid from Boyhood… it wasn’t, but I wanted it to be.

Celine, we learn straight off, (when we’re in the car with Jesse, Celine and their two beautiful blonde girls in the back,) is a lot more cynical than she used to be. Jesse is tired out, a family man who craves more of a connection to his son who lives in another country. Jesse has published two more books and that they are successful. Celine has become more politically active, and early on there’s a hard conversation where she insists this is the start of their relationship breaking up. I immediately had a NOOOOOOOOO reaction because I am so invested in the characters and I want them to be together.

The picturesque location of this movie is Greece, and it’s a beautiful, sun soaked landscape which Jesse has been invited to based on his writerly success. There’s a very upsetting sequence over dinner where Celine points out that what Jesse really wants is a bimbo, and she does an impression of a very Marilyn style girl – a vapid blonde who doesn’t know that Romeo and Juliet is a play. She is doing it to send him up, but the bad thing is that he immediately says “why am I finding myself to attracted to this woman?” and confirms her point.

It flows on to a story from two of the other couples, the difference between masculine and feminine – every woman coming out of a coma would ask about the other people; was anyone else hurt? etc. The men without exception would look down to check their cock was still there. It’s told as a humourous anecdote and the conversation about masculine and feminine are compared and contrasted. It’s a very binary conversation, and it’s a very heteronormative one. I find it uncomfortable to watch conversations about breaking up or how people are too different to stay together. Although there is a lovely line at the end of there “It’s not the love of one other person that matters, it’s the love of life.”

This is all important backdrop and set up for the second part of the movie where Celine and Jesse go off alone together, wander through some beautiful landscape and talk and talk. But this is also where the movie became very uncomfortable for me. As someone who has been through the breakup of a long term, committed relationship a lot of the conversation was horrifyingly familiar. Maybe not the exact content, but the atmosphere of it, the arguments, the people sticking to one point of view and trying so hard to get the other person to see what they mean. Making jokes at inappropriate times. The shit storm of recriminations and bringing up of old hurts and sudden revelations.

It was painful, and that shows how cleverly crafted the script, the characters and the acting all is, because it was tapping into something deeply real. My heart hurt for Celine and Jesse and the investment I feel for them made me want to stop the film so I could write the ending in a happy way inside my head.

Does it make me love the people? Oh yes. Always. Linklater really gets my need to have movies that make me love humans. And of course, that love is what makes this movie so incredibly hard to watch.

I found the ending problematic mostly because I felt like there was an explicit element of Celine ‘giving in’. The points she had been making were valid – it’s not fair for Jesse to suddenly uproot all of their lives for a shitty situation in Chicago, and his continual assertions that she was crazy, emotional and irrational dismissed her points and made them irrelevant. It’s something that is even addressed in the dialogue, however he never backs down from his assertion of her craziness – he even states it as a thing he adores about her right at the end, winning her back, and she accepts this. At the very end she goes back into the ‘bimbo’ character, so show that she’s coming around to him again, that maybe things will be fine, and that’s very upsetting to me because it’s taking away her personality and allowing it to be subsumed into what he wants. She’s reverting to a character she made to send him up, not to connect to him.

More than anything it felt like the movie’s narrative was agreeing with the assertions at the start of the film about the difference between masculine and feminine, that there’s no point trying to change who men are, and what that means (penis first, the world second). It also surrenders Celine’s arguments as just a function of her crazy French girl-ness, which is a problem for me who has always seen her as a complete character, a human being.

Bechdel test: Yes it does! Finally we have named female characters who aren’t Celine! Nina and Ella, the daughters talk to her (mostly in French) about apples, the ruins they wanted to visit and what to pick up in the store. Nice and early on too. Plus they also talk in the garden as well. Bliss. Little girls speaking French is just the most beautiful thing, isn’t it?

Best line:
Natalia: Like sunlight, sunset, we appear, we disappear. We are so important to some, but we are just passing through

Celine: I feel close to you,
Jesse: Yeh?
Celine: but sometimes, I don’t know? I feel like you are breathing helium and I am breathing oxygen

State of Mind: Ouch. It was pretty, but I don’t know if I’ll watch it again any time soon. Curious to see the next one in 8 years and see what actually happened after that night because despite everything, it is ambiguous to me.

Watched movie count


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