I sat alone in a movie theater in Haifa last night.
There were other people around me — strangers.
An American guy and a Russian girl out on a date.
Two elderly couples.
A grandmother, a mom, and her teenage daughter.
There were people in the theater, but I might as well have been alone.
It was that kind of movie experience.
The expression on my face moved in rhythm with the fictional couple’s tension and release.
My eyebrows furrowed.
My heart swelled and sunk.
Like the couple on the screen, I remembered 1994.
Except I wasn’t in Vienna with them when we first met. I was in Washington, D.C., sitting in a dark hall next to a good friend watching a free showing on campus of Before Sunrise, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.
I left that movie theater in Washington, DC in love.
In love with an idea.
In love with this fictional romance.
It’s pretty easy for me to pinpoint what I was so smitten with — the Ethan Hawke character was certainly the kind of guy I was into at the time. Intellectual, but funny. Confident enough, but still obviously insecure. Boyishly handsome.
But most of all, I loved that their romance –Jesse’s and Celine’s — was centered around conversation, connection, and culture.
This type of romance — not the kind featuring princes and princesses — was, to me, the stuff of fairy tales.
But how often do we get to see how the fairy tale turns out once the prince starts going gray and the wife’s eyes are underlined by heavy bags?
And it’s this reason why our image of romance is so royally fucked up.
Before Midnight is exactly the kind of film experience — and happy ending — we need more of.
“Happy ending?”, asks anyone who has seen Before Midnight, the 3rd installment of the trilogy, which finds Jesse and Celine married, approaching middle age, and discontent.
Real life, up-and-down, work-hard-at-it, happy.
Watching Before Midnight, we ride for two hours along with the couple through highs and lows during their family vacation in Greece — highs and lows not atypical of a middle class couple with young children.
As I observed Celine and Jesse, I could tell they are still clearly in love — or, at the very least, in “like.” They enjoy being with each other; they support each other. At times, I even found myself envying their verbal repartee, the ease with which they bounce off each other clever, but relatively harmless jabs.
They seem good.
Until they don’t.
Midway through the movie we also come to understand exactly how very detached they are from the magic that first enchanted them.
And yet they long for that magic. You can tell.
There exists a struggle in each of them between wistfulness and resign.
But the fact they struggle at all is, in my opinion, a good sign.
Any couple who still wants the magic is a couple who can most likely make it.
If they work at it.
Before Midnight illustrates the work that is behind long-lasting love. It lays out in ugly truth how hard marriage can be. And how easy it can be, when you are willing to put in the effort and accept your partner … even when the person who once enchanted you is buried beneath years of diapers, laundry, or uninspiring monotony.
The couple’s dilemma and resolution at the conclusion of the film was better than any “happily ever after.” As the credits rolled, I felt my shoulders release and was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. Grateful for the gritty, yet satisfying, conclusion at the end of Before Midnight. And grateful that the idea I fell in love with in 1994 was one that could last. That could make it…somehow.
I sat alone in a movie theater in Haifa, and breathed in deep the longing I sometimes find lodged in my throat. But I breathed out wisdom and understanding.