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Friday, December 25, 2015
Richard Linklater | Before Midnight
by Douglas Messerli
(Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy, writers), Richard Linklater (director) Before Midnight / 2013
Love and marriage, in Richard Linklater’s trilogy of three films, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight, the latter of which was released this year, is presented as something that happens by accident and is transitory at best. Indeed, in a luncheon party at the very center of Before Midnight numerous characters come together to discuss how they perceive their relationships. Each of them pontificate on their ideas, some even arguing, particularly the two young lovers among the group, that in the future love will be a virtual reality with whomever the lover imagines, rather than, as the central characters, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy), experience it, as a series of highs and lows to be suffered and negotiated. Yet another guest, Natalia (Xenia Kalogeropoulou), who has recently lost her husband, summarizes the transitory nature of every relationship, explaining how after her spouses’ death how she kept trying to remember every gesture of his everyday behavior and the precise elements of his face and body; her sadness emanates from the fact that she now how begun to lose those moments, finding it harder and harder to momentarily bring him back to life in her memory, and realizing that she is now truly losing her husband forever.
Since the couple will soon be returning to Paris, their Greek friends have arranged for a night at a nearby hotel, while they will care for their daughters. And, as we might expect, the simmering emotions both feel well up into a angry series of battles concerning his and her failures and the problems that, until now, they have basically left unspoken. As an ardent feminist, Céline resents the time Jesse, a well-known novelist, has been away from the family on sales tours and in writing venues; moreover she slightly resents that he has used their own relationship as a central subject in three of his books.
He, on the other hand, somewhat resents her insistence that Paris be their home base and her perception that his writing is more a joyful hobby than an actual career. But other deeper issues, their aging, the sacrifices they’ve been forced to make family, and basic differences in how they see the world bubble up underneath their primary arguments.
What is amazing about Linklater’s slightly Strindbergian trilogy, is the fact that, despite his films being primarily a series of cinematic dialogues, they work brilliantly due to the wit of the language and the sincerity of the actors, who have shared in creating that dialogue. Like most couples, no matter how ridiculous and unfounded their claims are, they believe them, or, at least, act like they believe them. Unlike Albee’s Martha and George, who seem to be acting out a ritualistic nightly rite, Jesse and Céline throw up sometimes trivial matters and criticisms of one another that come from their own flaws as human beings; and, accordingly, they are both irrational and deadly serious in their attacks.
It is the unstated absurdity of some of their positions which also allow Linklater and his characters to discover a more felicitous way out of their self-invented realities than any Strindberg couple. Having slammed their hotel door shut, Céline’s Nora-like figure retreats not to the cold streets but to a picture-postcard seaside bench, where Jesse, ever playing the clown, takes on the mask of a time-traveler, bringing a letter addressed to her future 82-year old self, which describes this miserable night as being one of the best of their lives.
Los Angeles, Christmas Day, 2013