A Personal Commentary on “Before Midnight” by Camille de los Reyes

Photo Courtesy of Castle Rock Entertainment/Sony Pictures Classics

Photo Courtesy of Castle Rock Entertainment/        Sony Pictures Classics

Before Midnight , as of the moment, is the concluding love story of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s characters Jesse and Celine. Like in the past two films, (Before Sunrise and Before Sunset), the film is set within a day.  Tensions and big decisions play throughout that period; their relationship is always at stake because their time together is limited until the sunrise, the sunset, and now, midnight. Obviously, time plays an essential factor in all these movies. It is only in Before Midnight that it is starkly pointed out in so many instances. For example, Jesse ironically comments about time when he is explaining the story of his third book to the men: “It’s not about time. It’s about the fleetingness of it.” And Stefano argues, “But it is about time!”

But before I lunge into an informal discussion about time in the movie, I’d first like to comment that Before Midnight is the most controlled among the three movies. It still had that feel of spontaneity of course, but almost everything in the movie had a purpose. For instance, the color tones of blues, grays and whites (night colors), contrasted with reds and yellows (day colors), were motif. They spoke of clashes and blends. Moreover, if in the past two films Rome and Paris were just places that set the romantic and hopeful mood, South Peloponese in Greece as a backdrop becomes a symbol to the movie’s playing tension: timelessness versus fleetingness. The thousand-year old Byzantine chapel indicated a kind of timelessness, while the ruins indicated a kind of fleetingness. Greece, in itself, is all about timeless myths that spoke of human mortality. (I mean, even Hercules and Achilles had to die at least in body – they were ephemeral).

The script, most of all, I feel was consciously written to have a (solid) organic unity. When Jesse mentions a character with déjà vu, or when Celine talks about tragedy and Medea, they are referring to the movie’s theme of timelessness. In the last scene, Jesse’s lovely little game of time traveling spoke of the time-space continuum, which commented on the non-linearity of time. At least to me, it pointed to the circular motion of beginnings and ends, of sunrises and sunsets, of risings and fallings, of memory, of relationships that universally bloom and die. (Ephemeral, isn’t it?) As the old widow says about her late husband (non-verbatim), “I found myself forgetting details. And I felt like I was losing him a second time. So every morning I would try to remember his face…He appears and disappears, appears and disappears. And this is like the rest of us, ephemeral. We’re all just passing through.”

In Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, the big decision for Jesse and Celine was to either get together or not. In Before Midnight, when they are both mature and have had a long, romantic relationship, the decision was for them to stay together or not. Again, another stab at the fleetingness of something, which is all very modernist. This is augmented by conversations that talked about having relationships through Facebook and Skype. It’s all very virtual and non-traditional, as if almost temporary. The youthful girl with the Greek boyfriend even says, “I don’t believe that relationships can last a long time anyway.” This contrasted with the older generation, who decided on a partner long-term. Take for example Jesse’s grandfather and grandmother, who were married for 74 years. Or that old man who explained, “My wife and I had a deal that we would each take care of ourselves. We were never one. We were always two.” And this then, allowed them to have room for moving within each other, which made their relationship last a long time. However, the wife has gone on and the old man remained on Earth. “Well obviously she’s not here,” he commented when asked about his relationship with his wife. Another contributor to remind the audience that we.are.ephemeral.

Even Jesse and Celine’s relationship is limited. Do they want to last long or not? Even if they do, one of them will outlive the other, as they mentioned in their conversation during their walk. We then find out that they are actually not married. This raises the stakes higher because there is no legal or official permanence. It is easier to walk out, as Celine symbolically does in the hotel room.  (It is here that I’d like to point out that the fact that Jesse is divorced speaks of how relationships are flexible). When Celine leaves the hotel room the second time, Jesse looks at the symbolic “ruins” of their relationship: the un-drunk tea, the unmade bed, the two wine glasses filled with un-drunk wine. And most of all, the door that he is hoping will open once more.  These motivate him to try and save their relationship.

Jesse and Celine represent the universal love story. The beginnings of it, its maintenance, and its end. It can be seen, however, that Jesse is looking for something timeless with her. As sappy as it sounds, love really can surpass boundaries. Love, in itself, is transcendent and eternal. Jesse clearly points that out during the last scene when he was trying to make amends. “If you’re looking for a true love, that’s me. If you’re looking for a fairy tale, this is it.” It is not the kind of fairy tale that their twins love so much; the ones with weddings at the end, be they “Donald Duck and his nephews”. And for us modern and cynical viewers, Jesse and Celine’s relationship is almost ideal. It can be our time’s fairy tale. We meet a stranger, we fall in love, we divorce a wife or a boyfriend because we found true love with that stranger, we have a family, we fight all obstacles to maintain that relationship – we are battling for true love amidst the Facebooks and Skypes of the world. We are struggling to find something timeless in our lives amidst our own mortality.

When Jesse and Celine watch the sunset, Celine says, the most important lines in the movie:  “Still there. Still there. Still there. Gone.” And the two of them smile at each other.  They are triumphant in their relationship.

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