Saturday, June 22, 2013

After Before

Before Sunrise. Before Sunset. Before Midnight.

I watched all three for the first time in less than 48 hours.

And I'm feeling too lazy to write much about any of them. But, here's a little bit...

I've always been a Linklater fan. These three Before films only solidify his reputation as an American Master for me. At his best, in these films, he is working on a continuation of the Rohmer Project, the documentation of a nebulous world of love and sexes and philosophies. In Before Midnight, I even felt a Cassavetes vibe. So, yes, high praise for Linklater from me if I'm describing his recent film as a Rohmer/Cassavetes mashup.

Still, I'm a little uneasy. Rohmer and Cassavetes never let their men off the hook easy. Selfishness and self-destruction and failures of nerve and failures of love are dissected and laid bare.

The best thing that I can say about Linklater is that he loves his characters in the same way that Rohmer and Cassavetes loved their characters. This shines through.

My problem with Linklater is that I think that Linklater might be too soft to do more than wink at the selfishness of Jesse (or Celine). He doesn't quite have it in him to portray them in a negative light. For all of the talk of perspectives, we are never given one crucial perspective, that of Jesse's ex-wife. For all of their fighting, the two of them are still the "soulmates" that we *know* belong together.

I call bullshit.

Jesse and Celine are big kids who have failed to grow up. They are self-centered. The key line in Midnight is when Jesse says that the best time in a person's life, the only time in anyone's life in which they are truly free, is the time between when they are away from their parents and before they have children. In other words, the time in one's life (often over-extended to a ridiculous degree in today's man-child environment) when one can be most selfish, free from any and all relationship cords, bonds, duties, responsibilities toward anyone other than self.

I ranted a bit to Ben and Jeff and Chris after the movie tonight. My main beef with Sunset and Midnight is the way in which the adulterous affair is portrayed. Brandon has agreed with me in the past that the offended spouses in these situation are often given short shrift. This is the case here. In Sunset, the wife is referred to as a frigid bitch that Jesse could not love. Jesse only partially owns up to this being his fault. Instead of loving his wife, he leaves her. Now, in Midnight, the offscreen bitch is described as an abusive alcoholic, an angry woman, and a bad mother. All of this serves to reinforce the audience's cultivated prejudice in favor of Jesse and Celine and against this terrible woman that stood in the way of their pure love and its continuation. It is also notable that Jesse and Celine's love is expressed by non-marriage. Contrary to Brandon's post, the movie does make a point of saying that the two have not married. Jesse, ever the man-child, does not want to be put in "institutional bonds put in place by someone else." It's clear enough that Jesse has problems. The thing about the film, though, is that Jesse's man-child charm wins the day. He talks his way through any objections (including dismissing a casual infidelity from the past with not much more than a wave of the hand and some smooth talk) and comes up with a nice little time traveler persona as a way to win his way back into a night of steamy sex. The audience is happy for him. I'm not so sure that we should be happy.

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