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Zettel Film Reviews » Before Midnight – Linklater, Delpy and Hawke – an exploration of Love for grown-ups

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Before Midnight – Linklater, Delpy and Hawke – an exploration of Love for grown-ups

 

 

 

 

Before Midnight – Richard Linklater

Simone Weil – “Perhaps love is an attempt to make permanent that which by its very nature is transient”

Celine in Before Sunrise:

“You know I believe if there’s any kind of God it wouldn’t be in any of us; not you or me, just this little space in between. If there is any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed, but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt,”

With intelligence, deep insight and often uncomfortable clarity, Before Midnight wrestles with Simone Weil’s archetypally French thought and with complete dramatic consistency perfectly exemplifies how the hope and idealism of the young Celine has been battered and bruised – but not bowed – by time and the contradiction implicit in Weil’s remark.

Richard Linklater’s credentials as the most instinctively philosophical of Directors, firmly established with his extraordinary Waking Life (2001) are here further demonstrated where they are applied not just to abstract ideas but to the personal question at the heart of our individualistic culture: what is it to love an other: first to be in love; then to share a love; and finally to live a love. These three questions mark the stages of Linklater’s exploration: Before Sunrise; Before Sunset; and now Before Midnight. It is a mark of the brilliance of the trilogy that each film is true to the stage it represents in the relationship between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) – none more so than this latest richly layered, emotionally perceptive and intellectually engrossing movie.

I say Linklater but this movie, as with the two before it is the creation of three people, in equal measure: Delpy, Hawke, and Linklater. You won’t see better acting than Hawke and Delpy here in this or any year. They now inhabit these characters and their relationship which they have helped to create not merely act, so completely we, through Linklater’s camera are like direct witnesses to two interesting people trying to sustain the most important relationship in their lives. The acting is so assured and truthful it is totally invisible.

Much of the fun of Midnight is catching up on the Jesse, Celine relationship so I will not go there: suffice to say there are now children and the complexities of divorce to contend with. The real time parallels between characters and actors are maintained with the 44 years-old Delpy and Hawke 43 continuing the Celine/Jesse relationship for the 18 years since Before Sunrise in 1995.

Nothing much happens in Midnight: it is as wordy and occasionally frustrating as the complicated couple it depicts. It is also wittily and self-mockingly funny, romantic and cynical, painful and tender, bitter, nostalgic and frequently wistfully sad. But it explores with more insight and sensitivity than any film I can remember, the emotional differences in perspective between what it is to be a man in love and to be a woman in love – with each other. A good measure of the accuracy of the writing is that Midnight is full of delicious, acutely observed moments where the laughter in the audience divides the genders – the men one moment and the women the next.

Delpy is particularly critical to the success of this process. Beautiful, intelligent, articulate and at times fierce and passionate, she is not only more than a match for Jesse/Hawke but challenges implicit masculine attitudes and assumptions as a more than worthy representative of an authentic woman’s voice. I say this because of the uncomfortable truths I as man can only too readily, if reluctantly recognise.

On the other hand as a man, Celine’s apparently capricious, and yes as it seems, illogical over-reactions and almost perverse misunderstanding has guys in the audience nodding with the bewildered assent of personal experience. One of many implicit philosophical themes is the conflict between the idea of truth as what we need it to be to survive and be happy: and truth as being what it is independently of our wishes and desires. When each of these radically different conceptions are applied to our emotions and behaviour they inevitably lead to clashes of irreconcilable perspectives.

There is a dichotomy at the heart of Midnight: one side of this divide is the belief that life-long relationships between men and women are founded upon a deep union, a coming together between a man and a woman based upon the sense that each is the other’s destined partner – each the only one for the other. Here each gives up something of themselves to become an ‘us’. The thinking here appears to be that this willing sacrifice of individual freedom and independent action provides the essential common ground of a relationship upon which long-term stability depends.

The contrasting view to this is contrary not contradictory. Here it is argued that the instinctive mutual attraction between lovers, physical, emotional and spiritual is kept alive over time by the emotional dialectic and dialogue of two separate individuals constantly renewing their love through dissent, discussion, argument and reconciliation, rows and making up.

These two conceptions can overlap and conflate; each posing its distinct problems and challenges. The ‘union’ conception can often lead to disenchantment, complacency and a sense of loss of self; often expressed through an actual or claimed imbalance in the ‘self-sacrifices’ made – notably perhaps by women.

In contrast, long-term relationships between strong, independent individuals can become wearying; when the underlying mutual attraction wanes or inevitably changes from the effects of time, age, biology and practical challenges of a life together the good will and willingness to compromise can also disappear leaving two people equipped to hurt deeply by striking directly at the other’s most sensitive areas, known precisely through the privilege of earlier trust and intimacy. Listen carefully in any supermarket and you will frequently hear couples worthy of a PhD in bickering.

All of these richly complex ways of looking at love and life are stated and explored in Before Midnight. If you, as many do, find this introspection and self-doubt indulgent and pointless then clearly this film is not for you. But if you liked the youthful romantic idealism of Before Sunrise and enjoyed the delicious ‘will they won’t they’ uncertainties of Before Sunset to reject the thoughtful, emotionally mature challenge that Before Midnight represents is to refuse to join Celine and Jesse on the deepest and most rewarding stage of their journey together. The film perfectly confronts us with the same difficult, unsettling choices Jesse and Celine face. I find the end of the film as satisfyingly true to its underlying conception as it is on one level inconclusive. Loving relationships are hard and need constant and imaginative renewal: this isn’t a matter of theoretical abstraction; it is the inevitable and inescapable consequence of the natural ebb and flow of the events in our lives – both as individuals and couples.

As the French, inevitably, so elegantly express it:

“plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”

And yes, as those of you who have read my review of Two Days In Paris will understand – I am still in love with Julie Delpy. The more as time goes on.

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