Before Before Midnight

Next Monday I will sit in a movie theater in Copenhagen and see Before Midnight (2013, Richard Linklater) on the big screen, but before I do that (and write a post about it), I need to document why this movie saga has sunk deep into my spirit.

It all started one particular night over Thanksgiving break in 2006. My friend David invited me over to watch Before Sunrise. I knew nothing about the film, but trusted David's taste in movies (he had previously introduced me to Wes Anderson and Manhattan). I watched Richard Linklater's 1995 film dumbstruck and swooning; this film was giving life to everything I believed about love and relationships.

Céline and Jesse's chance meeting on a train towards Vienna, and their subsequent connection through rich conversation, is never overdone in the Hollywood way. I'd always valued words as the building blocks to connection, and now I was seeing a true, authentic exploration of two people using their words to weave themselves together.  I appreciate subtlety in film, and Before Sunrise does this expertly when depicting new love. A story doesn't have to be filled with plot twists to be compelling, because what's more compelling than two people discovering each other? Céline says it herself in the film: "if there's any 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."

But their story in Before Sunrise ends with a cliffhanger of uncertainty. Luckily there was a sequel -- Before Sunset -- which I didn't have to wait nine years to see like those who had waited between 1995 and 2004. The second film is an emotionally deeper, wiser film, where Jesse and Céline have lost their youthful romanticism partly because of what happened to them and between them during those nine years. Because I watched it immediately after the first, Before Sunset sent me wheeling from intense idealism to pragmatic distress. I worried that it was very possible for me to lose my romantic optimism if things didn't work out the way I expected them to.

Nevertheless, I took Before Sunrise and Before Sunset with me in my heart to Paris. On trains I'd hope that some cute guy would sit next to me. I often went (and still do, every time I'm in Paris) to Shakespeare & Co just to remember that Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy were once there. I'd picture meeting someone (hopefully French or otherwise foreign) and that our conversations, and with them attraction, would flow and deepen. In fact I did meet someone and spent a perfect spring day walking around the city with him, but neither of us was from Paris and we had to fly home shortly afterwards. A year and a half later I flew to the foreign city where he lives to meet him, thinking there might still be something, but scheduling didn't work out and I haven't seen him since.

Like Jesse and Céline's missed connection, after that trip it's quite possible that "I might have given up on the whole idea of romantic love, I might have put it to bed, that day, when you weren't there." But now I'm renewed, 3 years later, with a healthy optimism. I still harbor the idea that conversation is the key to connection, since I've had great relationships and even better conversations in both the platonic and romantic categories. But I've realized too it's about timing, because things don't always work out. In any case, it warms me to know that in Before Midnight, Jesse and Céline have ended up together and are now dealing with the everyday stuff of marriage (more on that next week after I've seen it). It may not have worked out the way they expected, but their story does have a direction, as does my life.

What fascinates me about these three films is their treatment of time. The titles imply it: the continuing narrative places a big emphasis on real time. How does time work in instants, and how does it change us? How do connections with people withstand the test of time, or how do they not? It's 7 years since I first discovered this story, but my love for it has not depleted. If anything, it's grown. I've grown with these characters and will continue to do so. Every time I watch each film something new resonates emotionally, as I bring my own experiences into play.

But most of all, this trilogy has shown me that the people you meet in the places you experience give your life its direction. I will be leaving Copenhagen in a few months to start anew in Boston, and Before helps me remember that my connections to people, wherever I've been, have colored my identity. And that it's never too late to be with someone, should it be right.

After Before Midnight

Contagion and Viral Propagation