Brainflow Feed

That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, they revolve mostly around films.)

Before Midnight

Friday, June 28th, 2013 5:41 pm—Film

Before Midnight (USA 2013, Drama), Writers: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke; Director: Richard Linklater

Before Midnight is the third installment of the ongoing love story between American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French Celine (Julie Delpy). First was 1995’s Before Sunrise, in which the characters meet at age 23 and spend a blissful night wandering the streets of Vienna, talking endlessly and falling in love.

Then, in 2004’s Before Sunset, the couple reconnects for the first time since Vienna. They spend an evening wandering the streets of Paris, talking, of course, and discovering that Celine never found true love, Jesse is unhappily married (with a young son), and they probably shouldn’t have parted nine years ago.

Now, in Before Midnight, Jesse and Celine are 41 years old, living together in Paris and raising their twin daughters. We catch them at the tail end of a summer holiday in Greece. Jesse’s 14-year-old son has just returned to Chicago, where he lives with his mother, and it quickly becomes clear, through more witty and winding conversation, that married life (or at least common-law marriage) has tested the strength of Jesse and Celine’s commitment to one another.

All the Before films have their charms and merits, and feature exceptional writing, acting and cinematography. But each one is more substantial than the last, and with good reason. The first is about falling in love; it should be the most frothy and fun. The second is about deciding whether to give the relationship a go. And the third is about trying to make good on that decision.

It makes sense that Before Midnight is the one that sticks with you the longest and packs the biggest punch. Eighteen years in, and with more than one night’s memories to build on, Jesse and Celine’s story is weighted down by much more baggage, but it’s richer because of it.

There are moments in each of the movies that carried over for me through the years. In Before Sunrise, there’s Jesse and Celine’s make-believe phone call in a restaurant, or Delpy’s perfectly delivered performance at the pinball machine, when Celine steals the conversation while staying totally focused on her game.

In Before Sunset, the ending sealed the deal for me. It was so leading and provocative, you didn’t need to see what was coming next. The film faded out on a fabulous note of anticipation.

In Before Midnight, it’s the lengthy conversation in a hotel room that left a lasting impression. The scene plays like a microcosm of Jesse and Celine’s relationship. They take turns dodging and tackling feelings of comfort, love, resentment, inadequacy, verbally waltzing through the bitter and the sweet and back again in the space of minutes, sometimes only even seconds. It’s an incredibly poignant look at married life, and so real and fluid that you almost forget you’re watching a performance.

I don’t know of any other films, or even television shows, that present live-action characters over the span of 18 years. It’s very special to be able to see these snapshots of Jesse and Celine’s life, presented in near-real time and taken as the actors age. It creates the magical sense that these characters really exist; that, rather than catching a movie, you’re actually catching up with old friends you don’t see often enough. (There’s even that trippy encounter you had several years back in Linklater’s rotoscoped wonder, Waking Life.) The Before experience is even more special given that the snapshots are so well executed.

Like its predecessors, Before Midnight has a hopeful but open-ended finish. Perhaps nine more years down the road, we’ll be treated to another day, or night, or few hours, in the lives of Jesse and Celine. Here’s hoping.

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For GC.

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