Saturday, 20 July 2013

Do I regret watching Before Midnight?

Note: This post is full of spoilers for anyone who has not watched all three "Before" movies.


         I know I have been freaking out about this film ever since they first announced it. I mean I was practically dancing when I found out that I will be watching it. But now that I have watched Before Midnight, the third part in the story of two people, Celine and Jesse, I cannot help but wonder if I really needed to watch it.

           Now before we go any further, let me wipe out any doubts about the movie itself. Before Midnight is a really good movie, perhaps even a great one. It has excellent writing and direction and maybe barring out the car scene in Before Sunset, contains the best performances of the actors playing Celine and Jesse, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke respectively.

           I think the only way to explain my problems with Before Midnight is putting it in relation with the the first two movies in this "Before" series, Before Sunrise and the afore-mentioned, Before Sunset. Unlike most people I saw Before Sunset first, purely by accident (and what an accident that was!) and then watched Before Sunrise. I immediately fell in love with the two characters and their relationship and the way the movies just focused on them and their thoughts and actions, desires and misgivings.

            Before Sunrise to me is one of the most magical, fairytale-like love stories I have ever seen, because as much as we want it to happen, the chances of us meeting the perfect person while traveling and spending a night just walking and talking around a beautiful foreign city are v.v. slim. Also the two characters, Jesse and Celine, are very young and full of new ideas and romanticized notions in this. It is the kind of movie that captures all the loveliness of young love without getting into the melodrama because they part before anything bad can happen. It is the perfect love story- short, sweet, touching and beautiful.

           I had not yet gotten into movies when Before Sunset was released. I can imagine people getting outraged and whatnot, and this was a time before we were drowning in sequels too. Before Sunrise was just that precious. But I think Before Sunset is as close to cinematic perfection as one can get. What it did was to ground the idealized romance of Before Sunrise into reality. I loved the fact that Jesse and Celine had in fact not turned into a perfect couple, hell, they had not met ever since that fateful night! It was a film that actually answered the question of "what could have been". Celine and Jesse had grown up and become more world-weary, but they were still themselves. They had all sorts of "adult" problems and they were sadder than before, but I liked that because I thought it was the way of life. And then there was the ending after which we wondered for nine years whether or not Jesse missed that plane?

           As it turns out, he did. I will admit that every time there was a reference to the first two movies in Before Midnight, I nearly died of joy. I actually fist-pumped the air when I saw Celine waiting for Jesse as they were together now, and with twins! But after the initial excitement subsided, and the arguing began, I started getting scared a little bit. And the entire hotel room scene, I kept thinking and praying that they don't end up divorced by "midnight" because that would be a mighty fine ending to this tale. Of course they didn't, and I can honestly see how whatever happens is the only possible conclusion (?) to this story of these two people, but even after accepting that, I kept feeling like someone had punched me in the heart and it was not nice.

           A part of me thinks that this happened because I had watched the first two right before going for Before Midnight. An entire day spent with Celine and Jesse and their wonderful, ephemeral, frustrating romance to end with me fearing for their relationship was harsh. Because of this or otherwise, it just got me thinking about if I needed to see Before Midnight at all?

         There is a quote in Before Sunrise and a line of dialogue from Before Sunset that I feel can answer this question:
"I used to think that if none of your family or friends knew you were dead, it was like not really being dead. People can invent the best and the worst for you."

"...do you think they get back together?"
"Look, see, in the words of my grandfather, to answer that, would take the piss out of the whole thing."

         There was also a little bit before the Before Sunset part when Jesse talks about how the ending to his book, which is based on the first movie and the idea can also be used to assess that of the second movie, is a test to see if one is a romantic or a cynic. These two movies have among the greatest ambiguous endings ever- this isn't just a spinning top, it's lives! I think a huge reason why I am reacting the way I am is because I think of Celine and Jesse as real people. That's how good these movies are, Before Midnight included. Which is why it hurt to see that they have become so crabby and hurtful. I did not want to see that! I was happy inventing truths for them. I would sometimes feel that they did end up together, and other times I thought that it wouldn't have worked out. And now I know, and I feel like I was better off not knowing.

        I remember that when I had rewatched the first two movies in my final year of school, I felt myself more in tune with the Celine and Jesse of Before Sunset. I also remember thinking about how I was more like the Celine and Jesse of Before Sunrise when I was younger, and that was a startling revelation. I wondered if I was turning cynical and how that may be a repercussion of growing up.

           But ever since that, my identifying myself with the two tends to shift between the movies. This again goes back to the test, I feel. I am both a romantic and a cynic, but what I am not is a realist. One could argue that this is the biggest reason why I was left so... shattered by the end of Before Midnight. And I get what Delpy, Hawke and Richard Linklater, the director of all the "Before" movies, were trying to do and show. On a cerebral and a cinephile level, Before Midnight is nothing if not a triumph. I completely understand that. However, as someone who started out in the morning thinking about how she will be 23 in two years time, the same age as Celine and Jesse when they met, to trying to sleep at night but not being able to because she knows how miserable she will be in twenty years- that's just not what I had expected.

            Now, I'm not stupid. I know that things change- people, relationships, life. I stand by what I said on Twitter- I *will* probably appreciate Before Midnight more when I'm older. But I just know I will never love it the way I do the first two movies because there is no magic in it, at all. Where are the poems and the songs? The music rooms and staircases? The electrified, palpable space between Celine and Jesse? Now they can't even be in a room together, and that terrifies me. Do remember that movies tend to affect me more than most people- I'm the person who wanted a personality disorder after watching Fight Club for the first time. Yeah...

            I realise I might have come off as a crazy, desperate person in the course of this post, and who's to say I'm not. That's not what bothers me. What bothers me is that I am now genuinely afraid of the next "Before" movie, if they do make one. I never thought this day would come but I don't know if I will be able to handle that. I mean, Celine and Jesse will be 50 and crabbier than ever. I don't want to see them turning into Martha and George from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. I don't want to see them properly separated. I just don't want to see it, but I know I will.

           AAARGH!!

          So do I regret watching Before Midnight or not? Well...

          When I sat down to watch Before Sunrise on the day I saw Before Midnight, I noticed how the film starts off with a German couple fighting and not either of our leads. I don't think I had marked this before. I also found it funny and interesting to note that if they had not started fighting, Celine would have never changed her seat, Jesse would have never talked to her and this entire journey that we have been on with both of them would have never occurred.

          After watching Before Midnight, I could not help but think that Celine and Jesse now were like that very German couple.

26 comments:

  1. This is such a thoughtful and splendid post.
    Thank you for this.

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  2. Great post. I feel your pain. I had moments of intense discomfort watching some of the argument and good call on that German couple. There were stuff that Jesse and Celine together that was really intense. Yet, it's very clear that both of them are in a tightrope on not really hurting each other. Neither of them are wrong in their arguments but they have a hard time trying to compromise. Any ideas on what's going to happen to them 9 years later? Will they still be together or do they split?

    I think that a fourth film will happen, it will be the most anticipated sequel ever. I do love this new film and it's right now my #1 film of 2013.

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    1. Thank you. I am too scared to think of what will happen in the sequel. I know I will watch it but I don't feel like speculating.

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  3. Oh, what a wonderful, honest post. Your feelings, Nikhat, mirror mine exactly. It's weird, isn't it, to realize a film is great but not be able to square with it emotionally because you're simply too close to the characters? I've never felt that before. It's so disorienting and you capture that disorientation so beautifully. The thought of them as Martha & George.......I can see it! That's so true, but so terrifying!

    Also, this: "I am both a romantic and a cynic, but what I am not is a realist."

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    1. Thank you so much! This is unlike any movie experience I've ever had. Totally disoriented.

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  4. I can definitely relate to how you feel. I was also nervous before watching this movie.

    It begs the question, How "real" do we want our movies to be? We often want the escapism, so sometimes the raw authenticity can be too much.

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    1. I wasn't nervous before but definitely during.

      Absolutely. I don't think I am capable of handling this much real though.

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  5. Wonderful Post Nikhat! I am not sure that German couple reference is intended or not but that's a great catch! Pat your back for me.

    And when next Before movie comes out, you'll be what? 30? You'll be all right! :P

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    1. Thanks! Back has been patted :P

      Haha, I suppose.

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  6. This movie destroyed me as well, hence why I totally share your sympathies. Nice post.

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  7. This is an excellent post, one of the best things I've ever read on your site. Before Midnight is a tough film, especially if people (people like you and me and many others) are so entranced by the Celine and Jesse from the first two films. I'm glad I saw Before Midnight because, above all else, it is real. Before Sunrise is an accurate depiction of love at first sight, and Before Sunset is an accurate depiction of reclaiming what's yours. Before Midnight is an accurate depiction of love faded. It isn't easy to stomach, but it's a harsh truth.

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    1. Thanks, Alex! I was really apprehensive about writing it but I just had to get it all out.
      Very harsh :( I know I would have watched it no matter what though.

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  8. Fantastic post! This film is tough to watch at times, but I think it's probably the only honest direction Linklater, Delpy and Hawke could take. It feels like a natural progession from the first two, even if it isn't as enjoyable or magical. I don't think anything will top the perfection of Before Sunset for me, but I think Before Midnight is a film film, regardless.

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    1. Thanks! Yes, I completely feel that too. I cannot fathom taking it to any other direction.
      Before Sunset is my favourite too. And Before Midnight is definitely a fine film.

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  9. I like that you took the time to articulate what I sense many felt, and which totally doesn't fit into a straight evaluation of the film itself. It's a great movie, but I had a similar reaction at many points during the film and after: did I want the truth? Did I need to see the (really) terrible moments in a relationship that seems to have produced so much good? I'll admit that at some of the most destructive moments in the hotel room, I really wondered if the characters weren't going to far, and if things weren't welling up too rapidly. By the end, I felt it was necessary, but a part of me will secretly cap the series somewhere around the midpoint of 'Before Midnight' and pretend like all Jesse and Celine's love affair isn't truly at risk of ending...

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    1. Thanks :)
      I am going to pretend that too.

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  10. Your post is dead on in so many ways, so well done. No matter how one came at the first two, i think there are many of us who left this one feeling like it was a rich experience, but on reflection wondering "was it worth it".

    In the end, I decided to just go on the ride that Delpy/Hawke/Linklater wanted to take us on-- I am sad I will never watch before sunset the same way again since we know where it leads-- but I am glad I got at least one more story from these 3.

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    1. Thank you. I am more or less of the same opinion. I'm really scared that this is going to affect my viewing of Before Sunset though.

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  11. Well, today was the day that I learned that you and I are very alike in a lot of ways, despite different backgrounds, ages, and time zones.

    I, too, am simultaneously a romantic and a cynic. I saw the first movie first, though, and fell in love with it, as I trust most non-sociopaths/healthy-sexual-beings do.

    So my biggest problem with the second movie was an unfair one: hearing about Hawke's infidelity to Thurman just made me look back on this personal, naturalistic series as being too in tune with the fact that Ethan, himself, f--ked up. And, as you learn over the decades, f--k-ups are as f--k-ups do.

    So it was hyper-weird to hear the premise for part 3. I could - and did - roll with the first sequel because I was still in love with the first entry and the strength of the writing/acting for its sequel.

    I have yet to see #3, but I hope that I find it as enjoyable and charming as most others have.

    Cheers to you, and try not to be such a stranger, huh? I haven't seen you over in my little part of the web for ages...

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    1. I just heard about Hawke using his personal experiences. But in a way, I think all three writers- Delpy, Linklater and Hawke, do use their personal experiences to colour the lives of Celine and Jesse and maybe that's why we connect with them so much.

      Oh spoilers for #3 being as charming- it's not!

      And sorry, man. I have exams and have barely been blogging. I mostly only look at trailers. I shall check your blog out as soon as I'm free!

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    2. Ah, yes, art coming from life. A lot of Delpy's latest work has that feeling...

      Spoiler accepted and acknowledged!

      I understand - work comes first, and it has to. But I hope you find a lot of fun entries when you do get a chance to stop by... =)

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  12. There's really great thought from the filmspotting podcast that I really wish I could take credit for. The "Midnight" in the title references not really the time of day (just like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset don't really follow those timeframes) but instead the fairytale notion that at midnight, all the magic disappears and everything turns back to normal.

    Great, amazing movies, though. These are the only films I can think of that have inspired me to go on actual pilgrimages in order to visit the places in them.

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    1. That does make sense.
      Ooo I would love to visit these places too.

      Thanks for the comment!

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