Folks who only “know” me from my online and (occasional — in fact, too occasional for my tastes, but that’s another matter for another time) print writing are probably going to be surprised by what I’m about to admit : the summer movie I’m most looking forward to here in 2013 isn’t Man Of Steel or Star Trek Into Darkness or Iron Man 3 or The Lone Ranger or any of that. Nope, friends, the one I absolutely can’t wait for — hell, pathetic as it sounds, the one I feel, at this point, that I’m flat-out living for is Before Midnight, the third collaboration between Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke that marks their next — and hopefully not last — look into the lives of my personal favorite couple in cinematic history, Jesse and Celine.
How much do I love these flicks? So much that I’m setting myself an arbitrary 1,000-word limit on my reviews of the first two so that I literally have to force myself not to spend all night writing about them. Say what you will for the likes of Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, or Linklater’s own Slacker or Dazed And Confused, but for me the first two Before films are the celluloid touchstone for so-called “Generation X”-types like myself, and are probably, I would imagine, pretty damn engrossing for other audiences — both older and younger — as well.
Once you’ve seen the second, it’s fairly well impossible to look at the first through anything but the prism of what comes after, so pretending like I can take Before Sunrise on its own merits is an exercise in futility. Let’s not even go there, then. And let’s avoid the whole question of which is the “better” of the two, as well, since they’re inextricably linked and those of us who know ’em and love ’em wouldn’t have it any other way. Let’s just agree right here and know that we’re looking at them one at a time only because they came out one at a time, and let that be the end of it.
And while we’re at it, I might as well state for the record that I can’t look back at Before Sunrise without some kind of warm nostalgic glow that, I’m certain, warps my overall view of the film itself and colors everything about it with a far more rosy tint than it’s earned.
Or wait. Maybe it has earned it. In fact, maybe the reason 1995 stands out as a great fucking year in my life is precisely because that’s when this movie came out. It would make sense. It’s not like there are a tremendous number of overly specific memories that flood my mind when you say “1995.” I was living in an apartment I shared with a buddy of mine since high school, I worked a couple of dead-end gigs, I had a girlfriend that I had a semi-rocky but mostly just dull and listless relationship with — the usual stuff. But I did party a lot and have a ton of fun and found myself tenuously taking the first steps into what would eventually become — yawn! — “responsible adulthood” along with a good group of friends who were going through the same shit at the same time, some of whom I’m fortunate enough to still be “tight” with to this day.
Damn, we could talk about anything. And one thing we talked a lot about was Before Sunrise. How Ethan Hawke was so much more human than he’d seemed in anything else. How Julie Delpy was just fucking luminous in every frame. How the dialogue was so real and immediate and free-form and authentic.
Truth? I think these were people we wanted to be having a night we all wanted to have. Most of us probably didn’t catch the numerous Ulysses references dropped as Jesse and Celine made their way through the streets of Vienna, most of us didn’t know enough about film yet to really appreciate the spot-on choices Linklater made with his camera at every turn, and most of us couldn’t yet directly relate to the intense and abiding love these two developed over the course of one (goddamnit, I’ll say it) magical evening — we just knew this was what we wanted life, and love, to be like.
And I think we all still do. We’ve probably all been lucky enough to feel that same sense of unfolding wonderment at the discovery of another person in our lives — I know I have and I was smart enough to marry the girl — but it didn’t happen in Vienna, on a compressed time frame, and we were all probably a lot more clumsy about it. So hey — here’s to movie magic.
It’s kinda hard to believe that just a couple years prior to this, Hawke was starring in a flick called Reality Bites, because Before Sunrise is, at the end of the day, a story about how reality doesn’t “bite” at all, but about how amazing, wonderful, and almost unbearably perfect life can be, even if it’s only for all-too-brief moments here and there. Linklater and co-writer Kim Krizan delivered a crackerjack script, to be sure, but the best and most important line they gave us — even if it’s a cliche — is when Delpy’s Celine informs us of her belief that “if there’s a God, it’s not in you, or me, but right here — in the space between us,” because for all it’s amazing dialogue, naturalist acting, and pitch-perfect characterization, it’s in observing that space between our two young lovers that the real enchantment in this work lies.
When the two finally part company at the end, it really does rip your heart out — especially knowing what’s in store for them nine years down the road — but I have to admit, before I ever even heard that the first sequel was in the offing, my reaction to the way this one wrapped up was always the same — “Jesse, you schmuck, don’t get on that train, drop everything and tell this girl you want to love her for the rest of your life starting right now and let the chips fall where they may!” I spent the following years imagining that they must have met again in Vienna six months down the road precisely as they’d planned because, frankly, I just couldn’t bear to picture any other possible outcome — if any couple ever deserved to live “happily ever after,” it was this one.
Nearly 20 years (!) and God-knows-how-many viewings later, I still believe that. Even before knowing what happened next (but not yet knowing what happens after that one — folks in New York, LA, and Austin who have already gotten to see Before Midnight, know that I am well and truly envious) this simple, uncomplicated story, where nothing happens but everything happens — a story laced with a kind of, for lack of a better term, “active nostalgia,” that takes you right back to where you were in life when you first saw it but reveals new things each time that can only come from being certainly older and hopefully wiser — was enough to make me fall in love with love in a richer and more rewarding way than I had ever considered previously and to want the spontaneous joy of getting to know another person and what makes them tick that these two shared to never, ever, in a million billion years, end. Not for them, not for me, not for any of us.
Now I’m getting sappy. Or maybe I started out sappy right from the get-go here and have gotten progressively worse about it to the point where I just can’t ignore it any more. And that 1,000 word limit? Guess I fucked that up. But ya know, I don’t care — I’m just happy right now. Happy to live in a world where stories like this are even possible. Happy to have a front-row seat to perhaps the greatest intermittent two-person character drama anybody’s ever come up with. And happy to share my thoughts on a movie that’s meant so much to me with you good people reading this. If you ain’t got a love like this, friends, I wish you nothing but the very best in finding it. And if you’ve got it, never take it for granted and never let it go. This. Is. What. Life’s. All. About.