Some Ramblings - Before Midnight (2013) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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Oscar Bait
Fall...trees start turning their colored coats inside out and eventually shed their old wear and gear clearing out their warehouses in what becomes their final blowout season... Coincidentally, it is also time when movie studios bring their artsy features out of the closet, ones that they have held out until the hoarse-y summer's din died down. So snuggle up in the fall jackets and settle down for the Oscar fare where the sensitive battle it out with the subtle, where strong stories stake their ground out in the fertile land of varied imaginations....

It's the stuff dreams and fluffy novels are made of. Two youngsters meet on a train in a foreign land and hit it off instantly. Their chemistry crackles and sparkles. They get off the train at a place that is neither's destination, wander around the entire night, sharing, exchanging, extrapolating and philosophizing. Night gives way to day, dragging along with it their heavy hearts. They had to board their respective trains back, but not before, solemnly promising to write to each other, reconnecting at the earliest possible opportunity and pick up where they left off on the road of mutual discovery. 'Before Sunrise' is every person's fantasy that he(she) would meet that one person in the world that completes them, in idea and spirit. A decade moves along. The youngsters of those yesteryears have both matured into adulthood. A chance meeting once again brings them together giving them enough space and time - mentally, physically and emotionally - to rekindle the spark, asking them the age old question of the forbidden fruit. He is married to someone else and she is in a relationship with some other. But the idea that they could continue from where they paused about a decade ago seems too tempting to let go uninvestigated, considering that he turned in a writer of some repute, and she, still a romantic and yet a staunch feminist. 'Before Sunset' is every person's fantasy where one could make amends of lost opportunities but this time around, the opportunity could be thoroughly explored not through the raging passion of the youth, but the level-headedness of adulthood. Another decade rolls on. 'Before Midnight' opens with the couple in question, married to each other with children, settled in a foreign country. He has a kid from his previous marriage (that is hinted as broken off post their encounter at the end of the second installment) and she has a career that seems to go nowhere. 'Before Midnight' is far from any fantasy. It is a slice of life that has all its smooth edges serrated away by the grind of life.

This movie (for that matter, this series) is a cinematic achievement of mind over matter, quite literally. Built on a template of just two people talking to each other throughout the length of the movie, dwelling on, digressing from and dissecting away the concepts and views on their place in the world, first as individuals ('Sunrise'), as matured adults ('Sunset') and now as a married couple who have developed a love-hate relationship to each others rhythms in life, the 'Before...' series could as well be a treatise on human understanding and interaction through the various evolutionary stages of life. However it doesn't take the high-brow road philosophizing on the grander themes of universe and nature (thought it does sometimes), but instead focusses on the wants and aspirations at an individual level, at different stages. Comparatively, the first two in the series, 'Sunrise' and 'Sunset', are relatively easy (and that's not taking anything away from the splendid effort put in by the creators of the series - Hawke, Delpy and Linklater), as they are both fantasies to a certain extent, in that, both of them weren't together yet and the entire effort is on getting them together, a boilerplate romantic comedy objective. 'Midnight' however is about keeping them together, the hardest of the lot; it is a raw, unvarnished, real and normal look at the life of those same individuals who have finally gotten together, but now have the rest of their lives to live with each other, putting up with the same things that they loved in each other before, but now after a decade's worth of co-existence, simply cannot stand the sight of them in each other. Isn't that the most ironic part of a(ny) relationship - trying to figure out how different each one is, after years of living together, starting out from recognizing how much similar they are in views and outlooks at the start of the relationship?

How under the scorching gaze of a committed relationship that has long passed the 'use by' date, things get magnified, distorted, misrepresented and misunderstood - individualism becomes selfishness, dependence appears clingy, obedience -> lack of individuality and assertiveness, well, inability to coexist. There is no winning, in the long run, even with the best of traits. For the oft asked question, what happened to all the romance after marriage, what happened to the kaleidoscope of vivacity and the full spectrum of free spirit, what happened to all the jubilance, the ebullience and the insouciance that was on full display before the marriage? What happened? happened...


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