When my mother died in March of this year, one thing I didn’t expect to think about nearly as much in the weeks and months that followed was my parents’ relationship. Amidst so many intense feelings and aches and pains that swirled around myself and my family, I often would (and still do) look at my dad and think about how this person that he’d been inextricably linked to for over 30 years is now gone. Losing your own mother is a terrible, awful, largely unnavigable process, but I have no idea what it means to lose your lover and your best friend. As much as they fought and argued and even when they were apart for a small time during my childhood, I could barely imagine my parents being with anyone else. But does the idea of soulmates even make sense? I have never been able to accept the idea of them, or at least of there being only ONE person for anyone–what a limited reality for those that accept such a notion! But a person for whom one would die, who makes life beautiful and precious and interesting, is that one person enough? And can two people grow with each other and stay with each other as what they want and need changes so much over the course of a lifetime? Or perhaps these things don’t even really change that much, but we just grow tired of each other as life gradually wears away at our souls.
I can’t think of very many films that address intense, romantic love as something with an expiry date, let alone GOOD films. One such film is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which so perfectly reflects the longing, frustration and desperation of falling in and out of love (it’s so hard to watch the last 30 minutes, and yet they are the realest and most essential scenes). But really, nothing compares to the Before trilogy. At least, it’s a trilogy for now–Linklater and his stars/co-writers (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who only seems to get more beautiful with age) have expressed wanting to make as many sequels as the lives of those involved will permit. I remember watching Before Sunrise on my shitty iMac in first year university and feeling my heart pound ecstatically as I watched two wonderful actors wander around a gorgeous city and discover their young, energetic selves through getting to know each other, half-fall in love and then go their separate ways. The second film in the installment (Before Sunset) was just as good as the first, if not better–Céline and Jesse are in their early 30s and they’ve moved on with their lives, for the most part. They are hardened and cynical and a bit sad; they share a cigarette and bitch about the decadence of America. And then it seems as though they will reunite in some form by the time the last frames fade out, even if it’s just for sex.
Before Midnight starts and you still don’t quite know what their situation is until about 10 minutes in and then everything slowly becomes apparent. And it’s gorgeous, the whole damned thing. It’s really just so fascinating to watch two actors move through a scene and convince us that they are having (mostly) real conversations. Their chemistry feels real, their arguments feel real and watching the film is a constant back-and-forth of siding with each of the characters, at times wanting them to be together, and then for a brief moment understanding why they cannot be, but the whole time just being glad to watch them live out their relationship. A totally brilliant, incredibly charming and emotional film as part of a series that should be required watching for all screenwriters and film studies majors alike.