Movies are escapist fantasies. While the world falls to pieces outside, you can feel uplifted by the magic unfolding on the silver screen.
At least that's the idea. But Richard Linklater plunged us into reality instead for his latest movie, Before Midnight. The big question is why? Or more specifically, why now? The earlier two movies were so full of hope, passion, witty banter and tantalizingly lingering sexy glances. Why go all depressingly domestic trials and tribulations on us now?
Before Sunrise was released in 1995 and took $5.5 million at the US box office (on a budget of $2.5 million and a long shelf life on DVD and digital downloads). The premise was 'does love at first sight exist?' Two strangers meet on a train. Jesse, an optimistic and enthusiastic young American gets talking to Celine, a smart French girl with a deep sense of irony and a winsome pout. They take the chance of a lifetime and get off the train together in Vienna for one perfectly romantic night, complete with a fortune-teller, a poetry-writing tramp and a fierce game of pinball wizard in a dive bar. Throughout the film they talk about their hopes and dreams. It all feels so fragile. They make plans to meet in six months. We exhale as the lights go up.
Cut to 2004 and Before Sunset opens to a breathless audience that has grown up alongside the characters. It's nine years later. We've all grown up, unwillingly, like the characters we love. Jesse is in Paris (and who doesn't love Paris?) and Celine shows up at his book reading. You see Jesse is now a novelist and has written about that one perfect night. We hold our breath. Will they admit how they feel? They do. But just not about each other -- until the closing seconds. We exhale again as the lights go up. We know Jesse has missed his flight.
And now it's 2013 and Before Midnight opens with Jesse and Celine in a car -- together -- with their twin daughters in the back. But they're bickering. And they don't stop bickering for 109 minutes. If there's one thing worse than arguing with your significant other for almost two hours straight, it's seeing two people you've loved since 1995 do it on screen.
Heartbroken doesn't sum it up.
Jesse and Celine are so at odds, so bitter, embroiled in a compromise that tears them both apart. Despite this, it's still worth seeing. The acting is so true to life you almost have to look away as they tear into each other. As a salve, the setting is beautiful, a writer's retreat in the Peloponnese, blue-blue seas, long languid lunches in the leafy shade.
But it's just too real. The movies are where we snuggle inside a dream. So here's a suggestion to Linklater and his conspirators Delpy and Hawke for the fourth installment. Let Jesse and Celine split up, go their separate ways, heal and find peace.
And then, in three years, give them tickets for the train that leaves Berlin late at night and arrives in Prague for breakfast. Celine is curled up in a corner seat writing in a plain paper Moleskine journal. He is re-reading a battered paperback by Hemingway. Their eyes meet. Make it right. Give us back the fantasy, Mr. Linklater, because Reality Bites.