Before Midnight and The Persistence of Memory

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Salvador Dali’s 1931 surrealist painting The Persistence of Memory depicts a dream-like landscape with symbolic representations of space and time. Watches hang over several objects, including some type of being that lies on the ground while ants crawl over it.

Moments after I saw Before Midnight, Richard Linklater’s outstanding conclusion to the “Before” trilogy, I couldn’t find the right words to describe the film until Dali’s painting appeared in my mind.

Memories always persist in life, and certainly in Linklater’s trilogy. As a viewer, we only get to see the couple every nine years, but we remember the past just as the characters do. Time stopped briefly for Jesse and Celine in the past, and then their lives continued on time stopped for the viewer. In Before Midnight, one learns what happened after the characters’  last meeting as the persistence of their memories transformed into reality. Then again, reality can be enhanced or destroyed by the persistence of memories.

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To be clear, Before Midnight is in no way a surrealist and dreamy film, but rather a blunt, adult love story about the realities of marriage and aging. Before Sunrise (1995) is one of my favorite films, along with Before Sunset (2004), however I didn’t see either until earlier this year, which made my viewing experiences much different than if I had seen the films at age fifteen (1995) and twenty-four (2004).

Before Midnight strays from the world I have come to know over the years, and took me into the future and the world of marriage. The entire film was an “Oh shit” moment, but also a reminder of the joys that will come along with aging, marriage and having kids. A lot can happen in nine years, huh? I’m sure people of the same age as Jesse and Celine (and older) were chuckling and nodding their heads at the film’s dialogue.

Before Midnight is a continuous series of long conversations, and the tone is always serious and brutally honest. Jesse and Celine ponder life with other couples, both younger and older, and together they discuss the persistence of memories amongst themselves, while briefly hanging up their watches as they dream about the future.

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