There are certain movies, and books, for that matter, that you can use to trace the timeline of your life. I remember talking to a professor about In Search of Lost Time – I can’t get away from this book, can I? – and how each time he re-read it throughout his life, he related to it in a new way because of his changing perspective as he grew older.
It’s no ground-breaking modern novel, but I feel similarly about Richard Linklater‘s romantic-realism trilogy: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and now, Before Midnight. I first watched Before Sunrise when I was about 17, returning from a trip to France. At the time, I was in the throes of that same idealistic romanticism as the characters, Jesse and Celine, who were so energetically struggling to find their identities. (Though, let’s be honest, I still secretly hope that I will take a train trip to Vienna and meet my soulmate.)
A few nights ago, I re-watched Before Sunset before heading over to the latest installation of Jesse and Celine’s story. I’m almost 26, a few years older than the two protagonists in the first movie, and a few years younger than they are in the sequel. Unsurprisingly, I see more and more of myself in both of those movies. In fact, for better or worse, I’d say Celine is the fictional character with whom I most identify: her passion for work and for feminism, her neuroses about being both independent and loving, her dark sense of humor that’s both inviting and that keeps strangers at bay.
Each of these films is just two people having a conversation, which is precisely why they’re so interesting and a fantastic example of how difficult it can be to strike just the right chord with such a dialogue-heavy movie. Jesse and Celine’s conversations are both profound and also infinitely relatable; on the one hand, they discuss their friends, their daily routines, and on the other, they symbolize this increasingly difficult task of genuinely connecting to other people in your life.
I guess when you’re young, you just believe there’ll be many people with whom you’ll connect with. Later in life, you realize it only happens a few times.
Before Midnight answers the question that Jesse and Celine kept asking about their own romance: are we different? The answer is both yes and no. We find them in Greece on vacation with their twin daughters and Jesse’s son from his previous marriage. Life has complicated their relationship. They fight about logistics, about their plans for the future. It’s the love story that most of us know, one of unconditional love and the frustrations of every day life that chip away at us.
Avoiding a spoiler, my first thought as I watched the ending credits roll by was, “Well, that was depressing.” But really, it’s not. The difference between Before Midnight and the other two films is that Jesse and Celine’s romance is no longer a what if. Instead, they have actually lived out their love for each other and built a life together. It’s not Romantic, but it’s romantic because that is the simple love that builds lives, memories, and families.
Image of Epidauros via Wikimedia Commons