As Time Goes By: Jessie and Celine

You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.

Jessie and Celine, there they are again, nine years since we last saw them in Before Sunset. Then they were in Paris, at a reading Jessie was giving of one of his books. He said he wrote it so they would find each other again.

Perhaps you recall seeing them in Before Sunrise, when they met for the first time on a train heading for Vienna. Upon arriving, they get off, and spend a long night talking and wandering about the streets of the city. Then they depart, as they must in all their encounters. It is difficult for them and difficult for us too. We don’t imagine they will ever see each other again.

But they do and now, in Before Midnight they are in Greece for the summer at a friend’s villa on the Peloponnesus with their two daughters and some friends. They are older, many years after first meeting and we are just as many years older too.

Like us, they are a little bit worn, weary and for the first time we see them arguing about both the serious and the trivial. Is their relationship about to end? Will we not see them grow into old age? We seem to care. Will we still be alive to join with them again in nine years? Will Richard Linklater, the film’s director and co-writer, as he was in the first two, even bring us together again?

Before Midnight seems very real, far more so the time they met on the train and at the Parisian bookstore. One night they gather together for dinner with their host, his companion, and the two other couples who have been with them. Their meal is lively, full of warmth, intelligence. It was a pleasure to watch, nothing I have ever known, however.

But I have observed many such meals, lively gatherings of smart and attractive people, full of shrewd observations and clever humor. Mostly they have been in Europe, at Italian trattorias where the wine is flowing freely and the food is bountiful, fresh and beautifully prepared. I know that’s all I can ever do, for I am not sufficiently smart and attractive or well-placed.

Before Midnight ends at a café by the sea where Celine has gone, after walking out on Jessie. She no longer wants anything to do with him, wants to assert her independence. In time, Jessie appears, does a little time traveling routine, and we linger on them, as the film pulls away from their continuing romance and we say goodbye to them once again.

It has been almost twenty years since the first time we saw them, as it were. Their fictional relationship is perhaps the longest of any I have ever seen or read. I confess it seems as if they are as alive as anyone else I have known.

Over the years they have aged, as we have. We were young when they were and each time they meet, we are also the same age. The progression of time, of years gone by, marks the central feature of the series. And, as in all things alive, we know it cannot last forever. Soon they will have to say their final goodbyes, as we will.

In the Times (12/12/13), Stephen Holden ranked Before Midnight as the number one film of 2013. He wrote, “Theirs [Jessie and Celine’s] is as real and complex an observation of a relationship as the movies ever have produced.”

And in commenting on the film, Ethan Hawke, who played Jessie writes (New Yorker 5/13/13) that in their third film together Jesse and Celine’s (Julie Delpy) attraction rests on a fault line of contention. The bitterness of their dispute was difficult to watch, to be a part of, albeit as an observer.

“One of the difficulties of romantic love,” Hawke said, “is that the fantasy of how the other person will complement you and be the balm you always hoped for…that evaporates over time. Everybody’s charm fades.”… “The inevitably of decay. You can’t keep having first love forever.”