Thoughts on Viewing “Before Midnight”


SONY-BDOS-01_Onesheet4.16.13_Layout 1


“Try a Little Tenderness”


Try a Little Tenderness 3Having watched the first two movies in the series, last weekend my wife and I attended a showing of “Before Midnight.” For those not familiar with the series, it began with “Before Sunrise,” which came out in1995. Jesse Wallace (Ethan Hawke) is a young American who meets Céline (Julie Delpy), a young French woman, on a train. They disembark in Vienna, where they spend the night walking around the city and getting to know each other. If you don’t think you’ll ever see this person again, you will sometimes reveal considerably more of yourself than what might otherwise have been the case, which is what happens. At the end of the movie they agree that there’s an attraction and also agree to meet again six months later.


The second movie was titled “Before Sunset” and takes place nine years later, actually being released in 2004. This time Jesse is in Paris at the end of a European tour for his bestselling novel on that earlier encounter. Céline attends the reading and they spend time together again for the first time in nine years, as the earlier planned meeting fell through. Jesse is married and unhappy; he stays only because he has a son. Céline has a boyfriend who also does not make her happy. Jesse has to catch a plane, but at the end of the movie when Céline reminds him he’ll soon miss it, he says only, “I know.”


Well, naturally the next part of the story, which also takes place nine years later, is for the two of them to be together in wedded bliss, except that they haven’t gotten married and are not as blissful as one might have expected on the basis of those first two movies. I’m not really writing this as a movie review, but for those who are interested, I will say that both Christine and I very much enjoyed the movie. We thought the acting excellent and the storyline itself, sadly, was very true to life.


Try a Little Tenderness 4That first movie in 1995 was a passing fancy, a single night, but it never left them. Nine years later when they reunited in Paris it was clear that this time they meant to become the couple they wish they’d become after that first chance encounter. So when we see them again after another nine years, this time with twin daughters, it seems only natural that they will be happy, but as the day becomes night we see that reality has intruded into that fairytale world we all thought they would now be enjoying.


In deference to those who have not yet seen the movie, I won’t go into the many arguments they have that night, but there were several things that struck us as we discussed the movie afterwards. It’s one of the joys of being childless, and we’ve always taken full advantage of it. We both love the movies and like nothing better than going to a late afternoon movie and following it with dinner where we can discuss it. This time round we talked about it most of the night and even a little the following morning.


Jesse and Céline had it all in the beginning. What the hell happened? Most longtime married couples, quite a few of whom have had similar experiences, would retort that life has intervened. But we happy few who have been blessed with truly happy marriages (we’re approaching our 37th anniversary and are still absolutely nuts about each other) would surely all say the same thing: those two have not worked on their relationship. Petty jealousies and resentments have intervened. Worse, they have not learned a principle we have always considered to be most fundamental. Words hurt.


We have honestly had very few arguments in all those years. I have always said that I don’t want to argue with Christine about anything, but I extra especially do not want to argue with her about nickel-and-dime things. As we approach our fourth decade, I suppose we have probably had half a dozen or so major arguments—and even fewer nickel-and-dime arguments. That is not to say that we don’t have problems and do not step on each other’s toes from times to time. We just handle it differently.

Try a Little Tenderness 5Most married couples experience two things with arguments. The first is a strong sense of déjà vu. Typically, a married couple will argue about some six or seven things. He won’t take out the garbage when she asks him to or insists on wearing a god-awful yellow shirt or well, pretty much anything you can imagine, I suppose, because people argue about the damnedest things. But here’s what happens. Each of them goes into it with one thought: no compromise, no way but my way. In time the argument ends because of exhaustion, but the next time they decide to go out, he’s sure to dig out that yellow shirt, and they’re sure to argue about it again.


The other thing that often happens—and we saw a lot of that in the movie over the weekend—is that the couple gets rather vicious with each other at times. Those arguments tend to follow the same course. He keeps at it until he has her in tears, and then he feels like a chump. And then, if this couple actually has a brain that works, they will sit down with each other and say, “OK, what can we do so we don’t have this argument again?”


Our solution is simplicity itself. We just cut to the chase. We already know we have a problem; that’s why we’re talking to each other about it. But from that it does not follow that we are obligated to go through the usual mean-words-make-her-cry scenario. We can just discuss whatever is wrong, put our heads together, and come up with a solution to it. The other secret is this: whatever we agree on is what we actually do. In all those years we have never encountered the same problem twice, and since there is typically very little disharmony in a happy marriage (they start that way, right?), you can work through that litany rather rapidly.


But that brings us back to poor Jesse and Céline. It was as clear as anything that neither of them really yielded a point to the other. They always had to win every point, which means that even though they’d been together some nine years, they had not yet decided on a place to live that suited both of them! He was no support to her in her work, and she frankly resented his success because he tended to write fictionalized accounts of their relationship, and the world he created for them was a far cry from the one they actually occupied. Worst of all was the language they used with each other.


Try a Little Tenderness 6My parents both had sharp tongues at times, and I always vowed that I would never treat another human being that way, but especially not my wife, and I never have. We have actually argued on a few occasions, and when you argue, you do so because you’ve lost your temper, which is to say you’ve lost control of yourself. But even though we’ve lost control, we always hang on tightly to the social graces. We do not call each other names. We do not hurl insults. Anything that we say is directly related to the subject at hand. So the next morning when we’re putting the pieces back together, we don’t have to start with this kind of exchange: “I’m sorry I called you a fat bitch.” “Thanks. And I shouldn’t have called you a selfish pig.” And face it, folks, that’s the G-rated version. I absolutely cannot believe some of the language used by people who purportedly love each other.


Here’s the other aspect of that. How in the world do you recover from that? Once you say it, it’s out, and no amount of apologies will ever wish it away. It’s like spilling black polish on a white carpet. Do what you will, it is forever stained.


But to bring this back to the movie, it was clear that Céline and Jesse rarely talked to each other without a fair number of snarky comments, and especially so when one was irritated with the other. And now after so many years together, they were beginning to wonder why they clung to the relationship. I wonder, though, what might have happened had they started each day with good mornings and peppered each day with “please” and “thank you” and an occasional “I love you.” Just a little tenderness. It doesn’t cost much.



2 Responses to “Thoughts on Viewing “Before Midnight””

  • Gloria de Lourdes Blalock says:

    Hello Joseph,

    Once again, your words are used to inspire and teach. You eloquently express what love should be about. It is never far from the readers grasp that you and Christine have shared a lovely marriage; not because we have to guess at it, but because you always tell us. What a blessing, my friend!

    Thank you for this wonderful review. While the movie is on my to-do list, you did not ruin it. On the contrary, you gave me just enough insight to want to see it sooner rather than later.

    Best to you both,

  • Joe Freenor says:

    Thank you for your kind words, Gloria. As I said in the blog, Christine and I discussed this movie at great length, so I finally decided I would write about it.

Leave a Reply