They’ve got the formula down pat: Jesse and Celine meet up. They walk, talk and argue on scenic tour (Vienna, Paris, Messinia). The movie ends on an ambiguous (edging towards hopeful?) note.
Before Sunrise was about the fantasy of connecting with a complete stranger, outside of the routine, even a derailment of one’s set expectations. It’s a what if.
(In crass terms, it’s a one-night stand while on vacation.)
Before Sunset was about possibility, a reconnection with ‘the one who got away,’ not quite as much of a departure from one’s daily routine, but certainly a deviation. It’s a what if.
(In crass terms, it’s an affair during a business trip.)
Before Midnight is the reality, this is the routine, this is not an unscheduled trip, nor a rendezvous. And ironically, it’s much harder to hold on to that tenuous connection with the person you’ve made a commitment to. It is what it is.
(In short, it’s a relationship.)
The lovely thing about this series is how you see the characters evolve, grow up, acquire a bit more cynicism and yet retain so much of their old selves. These are the same accidental lovers who decided to keep each other company, and then get to know each other some more, and stay… and stay some more.
The old tricks are there: the charming words, the playful flirtation, the make-believe when emotions get too intense. But then there’s also the harsh exchange of words, far more cutting now given the level of intimacy, especially while stuck in a generic, cramped hotel room, with no one else there but ghosts.
[YOU SHOULD PROBABLY STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS.]
[SERIOUSLY. I’M QUOTING DIALOGUE NEXT, COME BACK WHEN YOU’VE SEEN THE MOVIE.]
[DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU.]
They run the gamut of relationship issues, from chores to childcare to cheating. It manages to be funny because it’s so true.
A frustrated Jesse explodes: “You’re the mayor of crazy town!” A seething Celine says, “You are no Henry Miller. It’s always kissy-kissy, titty-titty, PUUUUUSSSSSSSSYYYYYYYY!!!! (*snores*).”
They unmask the annoying little habits and pretensions: Jesse’s susceptibility to flattery, his penchant for writing Celine in his books, his inability to pick up after himself, his moments of flightiness. Celine’s uber-feminism, her petulance, her constant habit of testing the relationship (i.e. Jesse).
But they also get to the marrow of discontent and disillusion and apprehension: Do you still find me attractive? Am I not the same person you fell in love with all those years ago? Am I still my own person and not just an extension of you, or our children? How long will you put up with me? How long can I put up with you? Do you still love me?
One is passive-aggressive, the other confrontational to a fault. Both are charmingly humorous, but it takes a little more effort.
There was a lot of music in Vienna (my favorite scene is of Jesse and Celine sneaking glances at each other while listening to Kath Bloom’s “Come Here”), there was music in Paris (Nina Simone’s “Just in Time” was the closing song — they named one daughter after her — and Celine played the guitar and sang one of her compositions for Jesse), but she tells Jesse in Messinia that she no longer has time for her own creativity because everything else takes precedence. She tells him all of the everyday gripes and the uncertainties that bedevil her.
Jesse lists his own sacrifices, that he uprooted himself, that he is missing out on his son’s growing up years besides the odd vacation given that his ex-wife (the poor woman is portrayed in a very unflattering light — they should flesh out THAT side of the equation) is withholding joint custody, that he has centered his whole existence on this commitment to Celine and their twins.
It’s a lot of ground to cover, but they manage it.
Is the magic still there? You see little flashes of it. You spy tenderness and camaraderie and a whole lot of passion.
They convince you that this is as real as it gets: that Jesse and Celine and their problems in their extended love affair are real, and you should root for this relationship as much as you root for your friends’ and your own.
So what comes after? I think one of them has to die. Just kidding. I don’t know about you, but I’m good with the three-part series, actually. Then again, let’s see what happens in another nine years.