Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Before Midnight

Before Midnight, the third of Richard Linklater’s series of films about a pair of star-crossed lovers, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), begins with a full frontal scene, not nudity, but through the windshield of a car travelling through Greece, with two children sleeping in the back. A psychological tome should be written about the effect of the automobile on dyads. Many couples will recognize the turning point where civilized discussion devolves into argument. It’s a process which Linklater deftly patholgizes not only in cars but throughout the movie. Jesse (Ethan Hawke), who has just left his son off at the airport regrets missing out on the 12 year old's imminent adolescence. Jesse, a divorce, lives in Paris with his new family while the son lives with his mother in Chicago. Regret, blame and responsibility haunt both Jesse and Celine. Celine feels she is always making sacrifices for Jesse, a writer prone to sometimes hollow and self congratulatory protestations of unequivocal devotion (his previous books like the two previous films in the series have documented their relationship) while Jesse has sacrificed the possibility of a closer relationship with his son by remaining in France for the sake of Celine’s career. The film is like a Socratic dialogue in camera, to the extent that it introduces numerous formal propositions, which end up being the substance of domestic squabbles. Some of these have to do with sex (which Celine claims Jesse always  performs the same way, “kiss, kiss, titty, titty, pussy, snore”) some with work (she says her thoughts are "obsessed with shit since that is the only time" she "gets to think") and others with child raising. A totally innocent exchange can easily turn into a fight as past incidents in the relationship are relived. History is hysteria is a popular phrase in the recovery movement. But Linklater is a map maker charting the topography of the emotional lives of his two protagonists. There's passion in the relationship alright, but it’s no match for the power of the perpetual thinking which almost undoes them. At one point Celine claims that she's wanted to stick her head in a toaster like Sylvia Plath and Jesse’s response is to correct her by saying “oven.” The verbal parries stop them dead in their tracks, but in the end also reawaken their love. Before Midnight is an extended discussion and if nothing else it’s a tour de force of anecdotal jewels. At another point an older woman describes how the loss of the memory of her second husband is like a second death, a conversation stopper if there ever was one, but that doesn’t stop anything. The back and forth, in this case over dinner, continues right on into the night.


  1. Marvelous. It's impossible to shake the feeling that we are merely eavesdropping on reality. Witty, wise, and -- most important of all -- truly romantic in ways that movies usually aren't.

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