I love Jesse and Céline, but here’s where they could improve

I used really be into indie films in college. Richard Linklater was a hero of mine. I remember sitting at Temple Towers on Weegie’s bed watching the Before Sunrise and Sunset movies and swooning over Julie Delpy and enamored with Ethan Hawke as they had a beautifully romantic, random interaction. Though they are dialogue-heavy, Hawke and Delpy do such a great job, it’s hard not to be mesmerized. I loved them.

The first of the movies, Before Sunset, surrounds a random meeting of Jesse and Céline on a train, and the subsequent 24 hours they spend together. At the end of the passionate day, they agree to meet again in six months. Jesse shows us, and Céline doesn’t—that’s the start of Before Sunset. Céline’s grandmother dies and she misses the appointment; meanwhile Jesse (who is unhappily married) has written a novel chronicling their first encounter. They meet in Paris and enjoy an afternoon before Jesse catches a flight.

I was really excited to finish the accidental trilogy when Before Midnight came out. It takes place in Greece with a married Jesse and Céline and their twin daughters. Jesse’s son, the one he had with his ex-wife who now hates him, who was visiting for the summer, is now leaving. This causing Jesse to have interior conflict about living in Paris with career-minded Céline (she’s actually supposed to be the leftist) and not being with his son during his most formative years.

The romance and idealism of the first two were a little missing in this film, but I was still charmed. There is still rich dialogue (and this time more characters), but still that faithful dialogue between two lovers that is fun and engaging. This time, the conversation’s end up being more practical—but still sex-obsessed. The movies climaxes with a major conflict that’s been brewing for months, apparently. Jesse desires to be in Chicago (or as he puts it, he just wants to talk about the possibility), meanwhile Céline wants to pursue her “dream job” in Paris (it wasn’t her dream job earlier in the flick).

They question their love for each other and have a genuinely heated argument that feels real and genuine, and familiar to many of us. I liked that they got together and started living a life. I loved the European landscape they were vacationing in, and I enjoyed how they made up. They eventually decide that their relationship is good even if it’s not as romantic as it once was (sex gets interrupted by a phone call that Céline jumps up to get right in the middle of the action).

The doubt that’s in their relationship though might have been cured by a few things.

1)    Faith. Céline calls Jesse a “closeted Christian.” Perhaps a little faith in Jesus would have done them good. They are so often left to pursue their lives without much motivation beyond their children (who seem like a burden most of the time) and their careers which are stressful (mainly because they are so different—an environmental lobbyist and a writer). I suppose any marriage is doomed if it’s all about kids and your job. Jesus and community give it more.

2)    Marriage. This might seem small, but they aren’t married. They live together, act committed, and are virtually married. But they haven’t made that commitment in front of their family, faith community, friends, and God. That little action of seriousness changes how we relate and bonds us a little closer. There is some insecurity in their relationship that might have been cured by more of an overt commitment. Sure, plenty of people get divorced that are married, but I think they could’ve used the promise.

3)    Reality. I don’t know how they got back together or what their experiences were like, but a relationship that’s built on idealism and infatuation is tough to maintain. It only starts getting real when we start having the conflict. In some ways, the Before series is unrealistic in its infatuation (who would actually get off of a train with someone random?), but even in its conflict. The level of intensity exhibited here is possible, but the writing usually isn’t this good, if you know what I mean. It’s a little unbelievable.

The cost of all of this is minimal, so long as we don’t take the films too seriously and enjoy them for what they are. But if you expect your relationship to look like Céline and Jesse’s, you may be missing something.

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