Before Midnight, as Reviewed by Before Sunrise

What would "Before Sunrise" Jesse and Celine have to say about their present-day counterparts?

What would “Before Sunrise” Jesse and Celine have to say about their present-day counterparts?

[Spoiler Alert: This whole post is a way for me to react to how I felt about “Before Midnight,” by using quotes from “Before Sunrise” to justify THE actions the characters take in the third movie. Do not read if you haven’t seen any of the “Before” movies, and don’t want to be spoiled. Alert over.]

Boy, I wanted to love “Before Midnight.” I wanted to love it the way I loved “Before Sunrise,” and the way I LOVED “Before Sunset.” Those two movies left me hopeful and idealistic, and mostly just made me want to find someone who was my perfect complement to walk around European cities with and discuss life. “Baby, you’re gonna miss that plane” might be the most romantic line in cinematic history.

But I didn’t. I didn’t love “Before Midnight,” and I think part of that is because it didn’t leave me hopeful and idealistic at all. It left me jaded, cynical and feeling like even if there is a “perfect” person out there for me, she’ll probably cheat or tell me she doesn’t love me anymore, the way Celine tells Jesse that towards the end of the film.

But what I was most interested in was, had these characters really changed their fundamental world views from “Before Sunrise” to now? So, I thought, let’s examine some quotes from “Before Sunrise,” and see if Jesse and Celine still believe what they espoused fourteen years ago in Vienna.

Celine: When you talked earlier about after a few years how a couple would begin to hate each other by anticipating their reactions or getting tired of their mannerisms-I think it would be the opposite for me. I think I can really fall in love when I know everything about someone-the way he’s going to part his hair, which shirt he’s going to wear that day, knowing the exact story he’d tell in a given situation. I’m sure that’s when I know I’m really in love.

 

Oh, Celine. Would that that were true. It seems that in “Before Midnight,” all she does is complain about Jesse, about how he’s so insistent on moving to Chicago (which he literally never brings up), about how he’s a poor writer and lover and father, about how he makes her feel guilty and inadequate…in a lot of ways, it seems that familiarity has bred contempt, not love.

Jesse: “I don’t know, I think that if I could just accept the fact that my life is supposed to be difficult. You know, that’s what to be expected, then I might not get so pissed-off about it and I’ll just be glad when something nice happens.”

 

Well, it certainly doesn’t seem like Jesse’s learned that lesson in the last fourteen years, has he? His life is immensely difficult (with his son living with his ex-wife in Chicago, and his present relationship problems with Celine). And he sure seems pissed off about it, and not just glad when something happens.

Jesse: “Alright, alright. Think of it like this: jump ahead, ten, twenty years, okay, and you’re married. Only your marriage doesn’t have that same energy that it used to have, y’know. You start to blame your husband. You start to think about all those guys you’ve met in your life and what might have happened if you’d picked up with one of them, right? Well, I’m one of those guys. That’s me y’know, so think of this as time travel, from then, to now, to find out what you’re missing out on. See, what this really could be is a gigantic favor to both you and your future husband to find out that you’re not missing out on anything. I’m just as big a loser as he is, totally unmotivated, totally boring, and, uh, you made the right choice, and you’re really happy.”

 

Jesse and Celine certainly live in regret, and in thinking about the past – but Jesse probably never thought that he would be the boring husband Celine was trying to escape!

Celine: You know, I’ve been wondering lately. Do you know anyone who’s in a happy relationship?
Jesse: Uh, yeah, sure. I know happy couples. But I think they lie to each other.
Celine: Hmf. Yeah. People can lead their life as a lie. My grandmother, she was married to this man, and I always thought she had a very simple, uncomplicated love life. But she just confessed to me that she spent her whole life dreaming about another man she was always in love with. She just accepted her fate. It’s so sad.
Jesse: I guarantee you, it was better that way. If she’d ever got to know him, I’m sure he would have disappointed her eventually.
Celine: How do you know? You don’t know them.
Jesse: Yeah, I know, I know. It’s just, people have these romantic projections they put on everything. That’s not based on any kind of reality.

 

This is the quote that can break your heart, if you’re a fan of Jesse and Celine. Their reality has come to fruition, and while it has given them a lot (two wonderful daughters, presumably many happy years), it has also led them to a place where Celine doesn’t love Jesse, and talks about how their relationship’s end is drawing closer.

Celine: We, maybe we should try something different. I mean, it’s no so bad if tonight is our only night, right? People always exchange phone numbers, addresses, they end up writing once, calling each other once or twice…
Jesse: Right. Fizzles out. Yeah, I mean, I don’t want that. I hate that.
Celine: I hate that too, y’know.
Jesse: Why do you think everybody thinks relationships are supposed to last forever anyway?
Celine: Yeah, why. It’s stupid.

 

As sad as it is to admit, they were right – the romance certainly fizzled and faded. Although there is clearly a deep connection between these two (Jesse doesn’t write that novel about their night together without him being in love with her, and he doesn’t break off his marriage to be with Celine if there isn’t a huge spark), it seems as though their two times together (“Before Sunrise” and “Before Midnight”) may not have been enough foundation to make a real relationship last forever.

Jesse: Listen, if somebody gave me the choice right now, of to never see you again or to marry you, alright, I would marry you, alright. And maybe that’s a lot of romantic bullshit, but people have gotten married for a lot less.

 

The irony of course is that even after 9 years together, Jesse and Celine remain purposefully unmarried in “Before Midnight.”

Celine: If there’s 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.

 

Once again, this quote has to make you sad if you’re at all a fan of Jesse and Celine. Because they did try – they did make the attempt. (Granted, it took Jesse nine years to write a novel about it and break off his marriage, but still, the two took the plunge.) And yet – if there’s one resounding take-away from “Before Midnight,” it’s that the two of them tried, and even if I (and a lot of the audience) thought they were soulmates, it seems like trying wasn’t enough. If the answer truly is in the attempt, then the answer was: Love wasn’t enough for these two.

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5 thoughts on “Before Midnight, as Reviewed by Before Sunrise

  1. hold the phone. i mean, i am right there with you— it was a depressing movie– and there was that underlying note that life/relationships are hard/ turn to shit. but in the end- the very end- she goes along with the whole napkin thing- and decides there is a love there worth preserving– or fighting for a bit longer…

  2. i’m not saying that there isn’t some hope at the end of the movie. but the point is, look at what these characters thought and felt fourteen years ago, and how much of that did come to fruition? i think they were right in certain respects (love fades), and wrong in others (believing that certain loves could fix everything, and that familiarity meant true love). not saying that there isn’t a love worth preserving – but i think if you look at the movie as a whole, it does demonstrate that what these two naive kids thought of as “love” fourteen years ago may not be enough to fundamentally sustain a marriage. even if they were fine that evening after she accepts the napkin, i still don’t buy that these two are OK long term. you don’t just say “i don’t love you anymore, you’re a terrible writer and horrible lover” and have things be peachy-keen. especially with the issue of his son in Chicago still hanging over their heads.

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  4. As a big fan of this series, I can’t help but disagree with you over how disappointing “Before Midnight” is. It isn’t. I believe that Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy present a very believable ‘conclusion’ to the trilogy. They’re not idealistic as they used to be–that’s the point.

    They struggle as many long-time couples do–married or not. And I think it suits them just fine not being married (a choice they stand by). Also, it’s not as depressing given the way Celine relents to Jesse’s whole napkin thing at the end. There’s hope for them. Is it going to be easy? No. It hasn’t been, and it won’t be, but there’s hope and that connection and understanding (on some levels) they have of the other’s psyche.

    • Hi Karen,

      First, thanks so much for leaving a thoughtful comment; it is sincerely much appreciated. I agree with you that the conclusion of the trilogy presented a “believable” conclusion, one that shied away from idealism. I suppose that I did not adequately represent that my disappointment stemmed not from an unrealistic treatment of long-time couples settling into a routine, but simply from the fact that I (like Jesse and Celine themselves) fell in love with their idealistic, younger selves, and was almost upset to see the people they had become.

      You are certainly right that there is hope at the end – for me, upon initial viewing (which was shortly before I wrote this post), I still felt that the sliver of hope was not enough. The film happened to end at that moment, yes, but for me, the most emotional moment of the movie is when Celine flatly tells Jesse that she does not love him anymore. Those words don’t come easy, and you can see she had bubbling frustration for much of the film (due in large part to concern over Jesse’s own concern for his relationship with his son). Sure, she could make a token effort after a blow-out fight, but to me, that fight in the hotel show that the cracks run too deep for the relationship to be repaired. Still, I (believe that I) understand your point of view, and certainly appreciate your having a different opinion from my own. Perhaps it’s worth a re-watch, and I’ll come away with a different feeling. Thanks again for writing.

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